Saturday, January 21, 2006

Haunting films

It was interesting and appropriate to see Hilary Swank, last year's Golden Globe winner for her moving performance as the driven boxer, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, hand the award this year to Philip Seymour Hoffman for a similarly compelling characterization as the driven writer, CAPOTE.

I don't go out to the movies much any more, but I was lucky (or subconsciously shrewd) in screening both of these films in theaters. MDB plays well on DVD and I've no doubt that Capote will come across well. But these are both subtle films. Their respective directors, Clint Eastwood and Bennett Miller do not strain to grab our attention with startling visuals and hyped-up action. The action, especially in Capote is muted and restrained. And it is not really the dialogue, but the tones of voice and facial expressions that communicate most with the audience. We are forced to pay attention to what is happening on the screen. And that attention pays off with deep feelings about every person and every incident, even some that are only described, that takes place. No way can viewing a DVD on a small screen in the livingroom or den even come close to providing the depth of perception and experience possible in a movie theater.

One recurring issue in this story revolves around Truman Capote's choice of IN COLD BLOOD for the title of the book he has not yet started but intends to write about the Clutter family murders. As CAPOTE unfolds several layers of irony are revealed. The first revelation is that the murders were committed in anything but cold blood. I won't get into any spoilers about that.

When I saw director Richard Brooks' 1967 IN COLD BLOOD, I came out of the theater realizing that the trial, convictions and executions of Perry Smith and Dick Hickok were official acts of killing, truly committed "in cold blood".

But the makers of CAPOTE and Mr. Hoffman have convinced me that the real process "in cold blood", was Capote's complex but complicit exploitation of the imprisonment and executions of Smith and Hickok. Ever the sly manipulator, Capote charms the lead detective on the case, as well as the two young killers, into revealing evidence and crime scene behavior that can only damage them all, and all in the interest of advancing his literary career.

But don't get me wrong, you won't come away loathing Truman. I didn't. But again, I'm not into spoilers so I'm not going to suggest at what you might feel about the man. But I do believe you will be haunted by the movie.


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