Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Life and Death of an Irish Pub.

2005, USA
Bennett Miller

There are several rules that apply to bio-pics. Or rather, there are rules that should apply to bio-pics, but are rarely followed because most Hollywood films are made by computers programmed with Robert McKee's Story. Capote, it must be said, actually follows the cardinal rule of the biographical film, which is to tell a story from a person's life, not to make a person's life a story. I'm no stickler for the three-act formula, but every narrative has to have a structure, a spine from which to hang the meat of the story, and most people's lives aren't exactly as rife with neatly spaced plot points as Ray would have us believe. Capote, on the other hand, makes the intelligent decision to base the film on an incident in Truman Capote's life, allowing the audience to study the character, as opposed to the mundane details of his biography crammed into two hours of exposition and an awkward climax. Unfortunately, while the film adheres to the first rule of biographic filmmaking, it breaks the second, which is don't make your film about a preening little queer no one could possibly like, especially if he talks like Scott Thompson on helium.

Like Lord of the Rings, Capote required extensive post-production sound work by flaming homosexuals.

Truman Capote, it would seem, was not a nice person to know, and therefore he's not a particularly nice person to watch for two hours. He looks like a cross between Paul Bettany and the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, he sounds like Jennifer Tilly's been taking hormone pills, and he acts like a toddler with a full diaper. But I suppose that's the character, and the fact that it's so realistically portrayed is a testament to both the film and the performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of our finest, flabbiest actors. I'm not going to spend too much time on Hoffman's performance, because he puts on a funny voice, which aside from a fake nose is the surest way to get a nomination in awards season. But if you're interested, just Google his name and try not to fall asleep while sifting through the fawning notices. Truman Capote is, of course, best known as a perennial first round Jeopardy question regarding In Cold Blood, a 'non-fiction novel' detailing the murder of a Kansas family at the hands of a couple of James Dean-looking punks. The novel later became a great film, notable mainly because it taught Robert Blake how to kill. The film focuses on the writing of this book, and Capote's relationship with the two killers, particularly Perry Smith. Capote found a connection with Smith's hard-luck life, and found the killer to be both intelligent and misunderstood. The most interesting part of the film is how we're shown that Capote identified with Smith not because the two shared any similarities, but rather because Capote had a romantic ideal of himself that matched up with Smith's life. Capote wanted to be misunderstood, put-upon, and unlucky; instead he was privileged little ponce who never grew out of drama school.

Truman Capote

The film, under the surprisingly assured hand of director Bennett Miller, is well-paced and shot. There's a great deal of restraint in the film, which most will find gratifying. Thankfully, the film treats Capote's homosexuality respectfully, refusing to make it a talking point. Capote could easily have become yet another diatribe on discrimination, but instead takes into account that audiences have matured and become more tolerant over the years. It also manages to use bleak imagery to indicate small-town isolation without probing the seedy underbelly of the seemingly idyllic American existence like a bad creative writing exercise. I come from a small town, or rather a small town that thinks it’s a big city, and I can assure you that the seediest we get is the condom machine in the bathroom of every Irish pub in the city. The pubs come and go, but the condom machine stays the same, like Stonehenge or the lamppost in Narnia. In fact, the life and death of an Irish pub would make an interesting bio-pic, how it's birthed from the ashes of an old Patty's or McKinnon's, briefly attracts a gaggle of university students on open mike or trivia night, but then is relegated to serving warm beer at 11 am to the neighbourhood unemployed and then sadly closing down after pubic hairs are found in the fish and chip batter. I suppose I shouldn't complain, since I'd gladly trade the drunken Irish cork-heads for the endless parade of Chinese restaurants and falafel joints that pollute my current city. You know, the ones that close down and re-open every six months when the Chinese waiters graduate their engineering programs without speaking a word of English and the falafel guys get deported for plotting to blow up part of the harbour. An Irish pub would be a welcome respite, and an excellent subject for a bio-pic that, like Capote, would be restrained, intelligent, and respectful of its degenerate main characters.


Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Haven't gotten around to seeing this yet, but it's on my list.

5:01 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

What the fuck? I write a whole review for Jody, specially tailored to be precisely the opposite of what was likely expected, and she doesn't even read it? I'm hurt.

11:13 p.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

I have a bit of a crush on Philip Seymour Hoffman. This might be just the film to cure me of it.

2:21 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

What? Do you get hot for the Pillsbury Doughboy, too?

2:30 p.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

Robert Smith, you mean? No, but I did have a soft spot for Frank Black during my awkward alternative phase, if that counts - before I came to my senses (and the electro-shock therapy, possibly.)

Erm, that's probably too much personal - not too mention irrelevant - information for one evening, so I'm going to shut up and get on with my holiday.(Although I am fighting the urge to make another meaningless contribution over at your exloitation post.)

I'll try harder next year, I swear.

3:19 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Ugh. I just watched the Pixies live DVD. Why did they get a polar bear to do vocals?

3:26 p.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

Is that the 2004 Reunion one? I'm afraid to watch it in case Kim Deal has gone the way of Frank and Joey and become a middle-aged, dumpy, beer-swilling dissolute... as opposed the youthful, dumpy, beer-swilling dissolute I looked up to in my teens.

Ok, this time I'm really leaving.

4:03 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yes, it is, and yes, she does. See you in the exploitation thread.

4:20 p.m.  
Blogger Squish said...

For as much as you seemed to enjoy the telling of this film, I found it rather bland. Going in I knew it would be a great role and that Hoffman would win the Oscar, but I had the strong suspicion that it wouldn't be about the man's life, rather it would simply focus on one event. I found that the very thing you liked about the film was what I disliked about it, though I agree that Ray was far to diluted.

10:51 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I hate it when they try to tell the story of someone's life within the constraints of a two hour narrative. It doesn't work, it doesn't fit, and it's not the right medium.

8:11 p.m.  

TRUMAN CAPOTE WAS A BLOODY FAIRY !!!, (so, by definition, i am totally contemptuous of him).

12:59 p.m.  

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