Archive for Truman Capote

The ’68 Comeback Special: Trilogy

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by dcairns

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Cannes in ’68 had, or would have had, only two American films (as opposed to three Hungarian). And one of those, PETULIA, was the work of mainly British filmmakers. The other was, essentially, a TV movie…

However, if PETULIA is partly a British picture in a way, Frank Perry’s TRILOGY is a TV movie by a cinema practitioner. At times it looks and sounds very much like small screen stuff, and then it’s in thrall to a literary source, three short stories by Truman Capote. It’s arguable that mainly what we get is short stories + acting. But it’s very good acting.

Episode one, MIRIAM, is possibly my favourite, because unexpectedly it’s a kind of horror movie. The great Mildred Natwick plays a retired nanny, living alone with a canary and her memories, avoided by her former charges whom she fondly imagines still somehow need her. Then she meets Miriam (the uncanny Susan Dunfee in her only film role), who shares a first name with her and insinuates herself into nanny’s life for some inexplicable but surely malign reason. Very early on we suspect that something is very wrong about Miriam, and we’re right, but we can’t figure quite what it is — rather like Anthony Harvey and Amiri Baraka’s DUTCHMAN, the terror comes from the not knowing. Meyer Kupferman’s insistent and unsettling story prods the unease into every corner.

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Part two, AMONG THE PATHS OF EDEN, is the least of the three, a two-hander with Maureen Stapleton and Martin Balsam meeting in a graveyard, but the two leads are so good they elevate it. Stapleton is looking to meet an eligible man and is targeting widowers by frequenting the cemetery. Balsam is laying flowers on his wife’s grave but politely and gently adamant that he isn’t looking for any more attachments in his life.

In the movie, Balsam’s wife died from a heart condition. I was reminded of Balsam’s own death, decades later: he checked into a hotel in Rome, remarked to the clerk how happy he was to be in his favourite place in the world, went up to his room, lay down and died. Heart attack.

“I’d like to die alone in a hotel room, the way people used to,” said Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom.

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Episode three, A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, is the longest and I guess most substantial. It has a wonderful performance from Geraldine Page and a story which is largely autobiographical — Capote narrates it in his distinctive manner. It’s extremely moving — the relationship between a boy and his older female cousin encapsulated by the baking of cakes and the preparations for Christmas. A weakness is perhaps that the strongest scenes are delivered largely by the voice-over — again, we wouldn’t miss much just by reading the original story. But when something is good, it’s good, and maybe worrying about whether it’s “cinematic” is a waste. It’s certainly ungrateful.

Perry made other, better films, with more cinematic life in them — PLAY IT AS IT LAYS and MAN ON THE SWING and THE SWIMMING POOL (can we have an Eclipse box set of these neglected works?), and Capote had a hand in some genuinely electrifying movies, from IN COLD BLOOD to THE INNOCENTS to BEAT THE DEVIL. Their collaboration here is perhaps hampered by Perry being too respectful of his source, but on its own terms it’s beautiful.

***

In other news ~

DALLAS VIDEOFEST 26 Juried Award Winning Films:

Documentary Feature Winners

Winner: NATAN by Paul Duane and David Cairn

Special Jury Prize: THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC

“NATAN breaks new cinematic ground on many levels and is innovative both in subject matter and its eclectic stylistic approach. The film twists and turns its way through a complex story filled with powerful revelations.”  – Jurist, Ben Levin, professor of radio, television and film, UNT.

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War of the Colossal Midgets

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2008 by dcairns

The producer of VALMONT was asked if he’d learned anything from its commercial failure, following in the wake of Stephen Frears’ DANGEROUS LIAISONS, which had successfully tackled the same book. He said yes, as a matter of fact he had learned something. “Never make a film somebody’s just made.”

The only exceptions I can think of to the rule that the first film out of the trap in a movie-race wins, are ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, which was unharmed by following on the heels of a cheaper, more sombre ROBIN HOOD (“You do know this isn’t the Kevin Costner film?” concerned staff would ask customers buying tickets for the Patrick Bergin version) and the ANTZ / A BUG’S LIFE and DEEP IMPACT / ARMAGEDDON face-offs.

And so to INFAMOUS, a fine little film by Doug McGrath, which came and went with little fuss, all its tremulous thunder stolen by CAPOTE. Apart from coming first, CAPOTE had a star of sorts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had paid his dues and was ready for Oscar appreciation. You may have heard people say that INFAMOUS is a better film, and I’d like to add my voice to that small hubbub of approval. INFAMOUS is not only livelier, funnier, more moving, more erotic and more intelligent, it is better cast.

It may have hurt McGrath’s film that people hadn’t heard of its star, but there’s no arguing he chose the right man (though I wouldn’t mind seeing Zelda Rubinstein, the little woman from POLTERGEIST, play Capote). Toby Jones, son of the unique Freddie Jones, a Shadowplay favourite, has two crucial advantages over the somewhat bear-like Hoffman. (1) Jones is a little guy, like Capote. This turns out to be more important than you’d think, allowing references to Capote’s smallness and accompanying toughness. (2) Jones has a much better script to work from. McGrath’s writing flows more smoothly than that of CAPOTE scribe Dan Futterman (this may be to do with the direction also), traversing the story in a pacy but unhurried fashion, where CAPOTE seems slow, threatening to stall altogether at times. McGrath seems bolder in his handling of artistic license, too. It’s ironic that both films take Capote to task for fictionalising reality, and both films are forced by necessity to invent their own versions of the truth. McGrath embraces this and concentrates on telling a good dramatic story.

My least favourite thing about CAPOTE, which had good acting and a strong picturesque feel for Kansan landscapes, was its attempt to create some kind of comparison between the crimes committed by the killers Capote chose to write about, and Capote’s supposed moral crime in exploiting their story. I simply can’t see any justification for making a comparison at all. Whatever Capote’s behaviour may be, it is in no way comparable to snuffing an entire family. Let’s be sensible. INFAMOUS manages to avoid milking this tempting comparison, detailing Capote’s dishonesties and betrayals without suggesting that his guilt has any equivalence to that of the cold-blooded murderers he woos.

McGrath’s brightness has other advantages too. While CAPOTE’s highlight is the author giving a public reading of In Cold Blood, which showcases Hoffman’s skill and command of our attention, but reveals the weakness of the script in comparison to Capote’s prose, INFAMOUS doesn’t quote the book at length but does provide a higher standard of wit throughout.

CAPOTE is a decent TV movie with an outstanding central performance from a superb actor who does everything possible to overcome a physical inappropriateness to the role.

INFAMOUS is a modestly conceived but very smart and interesting movie with an outstanding central performance from an equally superb actor who is able to fit the role perfectly, and I hope we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.

And then there’s Richard Brooks’s film of IN COLD BLOOD, which is a BLOODY MASTERPIECE, and Capote’s book itself, which is even better.