Sunday, December 18, 2005

Capote

I reserve Sundays to allow myself to act particularly spinsterly. Dumpster chic with a hint of Bacall, it's a day when I indulge in era-specific dressing even moreso than usual. I hike about town in my lace-up boots and over-sized cardigan cinched at the waist, patrolling the streets for trends to avoid and trends that are in to avoid. Making eye-contact with hobos, I smile. I tell them, Sorry, no change, but you have yourself a happy holiday. Condescending, I know. But what else could I say? Wife, okay? You're not married? Have a good one, anyway? Wandering different neighbourhoods, down different streets, I scour for enclaves I have yet to patronize, businesses in industries no longer demonized. Vintage vinyls alongside butchers, frayed fashion by furniture galleries, I enjoy immersing myself within this mirage of good taste, this miasme of driftless establishments intended to be undiscovered -- unsound ventures, knowingly brief, a paradox of cool for the seriously hip. Yet, even as I develop immunity to their novelty, the sheer volume of variety counteracts convention, disturbing any plans for long-term routine.

But I do this alone. I prefer it that way. Music is turned up high to form a sensory wall of indifference. I observe the nearby space without having to interact with it: I don't have to be on when I'm not recognized.

The world is too small a place when that "slutty guy" who slipped you his number also knows a good friend of yours. "I met this beautiful, Chinese girl named Lily," she's told.

I hear; I groan. There are a lot worse things than being complimented, but hollow descriptions leave me cold and uneasy. It's unsettling to be talked about (even if it is just one man's opinion).

***

I watched Capote last night. It made me want to re-read In Cold Blood. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance is a tour de force. The whole cast is exceptional. I admit I even cried a little at the end. (I've been doing that a lot, haven't I?) Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith just embodies his character. The facial ticks, the rage, the loneliness, all under an effortlessly subdued demeanour. He says things in a way in which you never quite believe what he says because how he says it always gives him away. You think, how does he do it? You want to uncover the actor's secret, you want to escape the illusion, but you give up and fool yourself that what you are seeing is real -- what other option is there? And Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee. To see her in "Being John Malkovich" to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" then this, her versatility as an actress is unquestionable. Never has her abilities been more apparent or complete than it is here. Alright, an exaggeration, but to see her body of work and never recognize her, not "see" her, is quite a feat. When Halle Berry plays ugly, she's still Halle Berry playing ugly. Even as a bloated lesbian with age spots, Charlize Theron reminds you she's acting. But when Keener appears on-screen, she could be wearing no make-up, she could be tearing off her clothes, you get the sense that she understands the human condition and its contradictions. Her voice wavers a little, she scoffs because she means it. What she does best is in portraying imperfect, and thus, incorrect caricatures. I think Keener's characters always seem familiar -- and this is quite true during "Capote" -- because their multidimensional quality appears not through the specifics of the dialogue or the fictional background provided for them by the screenwriters, but in the incalculable bodily movements produced by someone completely in tune with her strengths and vulnerabilities. To borrow the old adage, she acts like nobody's watching.

I was never a huge fan of Hoffman. I've always thought he played a different version of the same stock character: a bit albino, a bit geek. No doubt, he was always dependably good, but he wasn't ever great. Then comes "Capote" and my opinion of him has done a 180. He's that good. Hoffman walks with a bit of a swivel, capturing Truman's limp swagger and small frame. He simply melts into this role without ever falling back on reliable cliches. You feel bad for him when he's looked at strangely, you get angry that he lies. It's an unflinching look at an undeniably gifted, conceited, compassionate man.

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