January 13, 2006

I'm actually, finally...

...going to see a movie! It's not that I never see a movie. More later.

UPDATE: Movie seen: "Capote." I expected to like it more than I did.

Part of my disappointment I attribute to the dim projection at the theater. The visual concept of the film is darkness -- lots of underlit, claustrophobic rooms and jail cells, many actors in black suits and black hats -- so cranking the light down a few notches drained the life out of the surface of the film. But the script was also weak, leaving the actors to carry the story with their faces -- aided by the conventional dramatic lighting that puts the same shadow-pattern curved around half of every face. And these faces all underacted, which is better than overacting, but fairly dull, especially when virtually the entire movie consists of closeups.

Yes, from time to time we see a bleak landscape (in case you've forgotten how all there is in Kansas is flat, empty land with the occasional dot of a farmhouse) or a crowd of people (congregated closely together in black suits and not making any noise or otherwise demonstrating that it comprises individuals). There's Catherine Keener, as Truman Capote's friend Harper Lee, but she's given almost nothing to do except stand about on the sidelines, looking crazily older and plainer than she's ever had to look in any other movie. (Is that good for an Oscar? Is it enough to count the way that gaining weight and looking bad routine worked for Charlize Theron in "Monster.")

But what bothered me the most about the movie is that it flattened the character of Capote himself. We seem him in the end devastated after the murderer he'd bonded with was hanged, and we're told that he never finished another book and that he died of the complications of alcoholism, with no sense at all that he went on to spend many years partying with socialites and being a lively raconteur on TV talk shows. I had to wonder if the filmmakers had meandered into some dopey Hollywood anti-death penalty message, which had nothing to do with what seemed to be the real story of the man. It seems they decided to drop the sexual attraction Capote was supposed to feel for the murderer. Capote's homosexuality had no energy to it, and Capote himself seemed to sleepwalk his way along a path he chose out of nothing more than writerly ambition. There was a deadness to the character as played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, which is a character idea that could make sense at the center of the movie, but they dialed everything around him down, creating the contrast in the wrong direction. There was a bit of a good idea: that Capote was a damaged man and he saw himself in the other damaged man, the murderer. But there were simply not enough apt words in the screenplay for that idea to live.

19 comments:

CCMCornell said...

Nostril gazing at last?

jeff said...

I hope it's The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It sticks beautifully to the book (which is written movie-length) and the children are just dead on in their portrayals.

Even if Mr. Tummnus the faun looks like he ought to be on a sex offender registry somewhere...

nunzio said...

Does this mean she won't review the movie? She had a devastating review of King Kong based on her conversation with someone who saw it.

I actually like this style of reviewing movies: "Based on the commercials and what my brother told me about the movie, I give it two stars . . ."

OddD said...

Actually, I recently saw the film with some kids (about 10) who had read the books who were disappointed with the interpretation of Susan in particular and the four children in general. Susan came off as more whiny/naggy than supportive/maternal.

From what I recall, I tend to agree. The children changed on entering Narnia. They became more mature and more able. I suppose we're not comfortable with that, as moviegoers, so we have to show them practicing with their weapons.

Otherwise I thought it was quite good and I didn't take it too seriously, but the kids soured on it.

ToadLady said...

nunzio, do you remember Bill Murray's Oscar picks on SNL?

Or am I showing my age?

reader_iam said...

ToadLady:

Hahaha! Yes, you are.

Which means we can't be all that many years apart.

downtownlad said...

Is Brokeback finally playing in Wisconsin???

Eli Blake said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John(classic) said...

Wisconsin winters are made for movies. What else is there to do? Though it does seem adventuresome to actually go out to a movie.

A half cord of the really good stuff-the three year dried mixed hickory and oak- a set of the 1970's BBC Dorothy Sayer's mysteries from the library, Netflix, an emergency supply of chocolate and we comfortably wait for spring.

Of course, this unsettling warm weather is disturbing the routine..

Stephen M. St. Onge said...

        And which movie did you see?  And did you like it?

Ann Althouse said...

Downtownlad: "Brokeback Mountain" is finally playing here, but it's in such a crappy theater that the point of seeing it in the theater is practically lost.

reader_iam said...

Oh, I'm sorry to hear that about the film. Truman Capote was such a character, and it's a shame if his life was flattened out for some reason. Part of what's fascinating about him was the fact that he was such a damaged man, with dark obsessions, and yet he strived to live big chunks of his life in a brightly lit socialite milieu.

It's interesting to ponder a man who within a relatively short period of time produced the book "In Cold Blood" and the famed Black and White Ball.

By the way, does everyone know that he got that idea he from Dominick Dunne, who threw a similar party two years before, which Capote attended and brought with him a couple key characters involved in the "In Cold Blood" case.

It's this sort of juxtaposition, with which Capote's life was rife, that makes the man's story so compelling. If the movie doesn't capture that, I don't see how it could be anything but a disappointment.

reader_iam said...

Ann, how did they handle Capote's voice?

It was, shall we say, distinctive--as you know. And it's one that I think would have been irritating, except that he was such a brilliant raconteur and used his whole "package," so to speak, to great effect in his presentation. I'm wondering that if this juxtaposition wasn't handled well, if the depiction of this aspect of Capote slid in caricature.

Not assuming, just wondering ...

Ann Althouse said...

ReaderIam: I think the movie was pretty low budget, which may have driven some of the choices. To show the Black and White Ball would have been very expensive. They could barely show the crowds of Kansans watching the criminals being escorted into the courthouse. Anyway, Hoffman did a fine job with the voice and mannerisms. It didn't seem to be an annoying impersonation of someone who's just too easy to impersonate. (Remember I cringed at Jamie Foxx doing Ray Charles.)

Old Dad said...

Ann,

I saw the ending quite differently. Capote's depression was the result of guilt. He shamelessly manipulated and exploited the two cons, and he needed them executed to finish his book. Cold and calculating.

reader_iam said...

Well, that's something for which to be grateful then--the bit about the voice and mannerisms.

And I do indeed remember your cringe over Foxx. That's why I figured you'd notice if the same sort of thing had occurred here.

PatCA said...

I also felt that Capote's character was quite flat, intentionally, and so the movie missed greatness. The filmmakers refused to take a position on whether Capote was manipulating Perry or not manipulating Perry, or fatally attracted to him or not, or whether such manipulation is even allowable in the process of creating a great work of art like In Cold Blood. How far can a writer go if he is the god of his own universe? These questions about Capote and about art are raised and then abandoned.

And the ending, the implication that writing this book destroyed him is quite bogus and quite cheesy.

Elizabeth said...

Wisconsin winters are made for movies. What else is there to do? Though it does seem adventuresome to actually go out to a movie.

Didn't the American circus develop in Wisconsin (Baraboo, maybe)? If it's true, it isn't hard for me to imagine why, with the long, hard winters. Folks sitting around, with nothing better to do than learn how to stretch the legs behind their necks, swallow swords, and so forth.

PatCA said...

I guess my post didn't make it in, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but I thought Capote was good enough--thank goodness Hoffman played down The Voice--but the way the script pulled back morally from what he did deflated it. It wasn't ambiguous; it was noncommital and unsatisfying.

I don't know, Old Dad, I thought the film never answered why he was depressed or whether or not he had the right to manipulate those men for the sake of art. Capote was already an alcoholic and self-centered and the book didn't destroy him at all.

In Cold Blood is a great book, but at what cost? Do artists have the right to manipulate our world, or should they stick to their fictive worlds alone? The film never answered that question.