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Capote impresses press and fans alike in Berlin

The crush to get a gander at HOFFMAN AS CAPOTE was so great yesterday that an extra press screening had to be improvised a half hour after the initially scheduled one in the Cinemaxx multi-screen theatre complex. Presumably, the half hour decollage allows reels of the film to be switched from one hall to the other without missing a beat. Unfortunately, the press conference time remained unchanged, so that those condemned to the later viewing (like myself), found the conference already well underway upon arrival at the Hyatt just around the turn from the Cineplex. Seated at the long conference table were of course, Mr. Hoffman, in the central Son-of-God slot -- sporting a bit of a scruffy bead, undoubtedly "coming down" from the impeccably coiffed and turned-out Truman Capote he had to portray in the film. Next to Hoffman, on his right, was boyish-looking director, Bennett Miller, to his right actress Catherine Keener, who places Harper Lee (author of "Tequila Mockingbird") in the film, while at the left hand of Hoffman sitteth a meek looking (for a throat-slashing killer) Clifton Collins, jr. who in the film portrays, quite convincingly, I would say, Perry Smith, one of the two cold-blooded killers about whose brutal murder of an entire Kansas Prairie family in 1959, the whole story revolves.

Press conferences vary greatly in the degree of profundity or banality of questions posed, and this one was a study in banality -- perhaps because so much has already been said about the film and Hoffman's performance in it that there is little to add. Of course, the obvious one: "Do you regard this as your own personal Truman Show?" -- (eek!) --"How important is the possible winning of a best actor Oscar to you --and -- how confident are you that you'll win?" --- Um -- yeh sure – it's real important, but it wouldn't be right of me to answer the other part of your question", and, like that. More interesting was the director's explanation of how he saw the relationship between the condemned murderer and the flamingly gay investigative reporter. What it comes down to, according to Miller, is that the two men came from similar backgrounds -- disturbed alcoholic families, abandoned childhoods, etc. so that they found a kind of communion of twisted souls leading to a kind of affection bordering on love. Most significantly, said Miller, "Capote was the kind of social butterfly and outrageous celebrity center-of-attention type, that he always needed to be "on" to maintain his public image. But in the prison cell talking to Perry he found a kindred soul and a place where he could let his hair down and just be himself".

Well, as for the Oscar, Hoffman as Capote is just such a massive role and such a tour-de-force of impersonation, that I for one can't see him losing out to anyone, not even to Heath Ledger for his most commendable and moving performance in "Brokeback Mountain". The parallels however, are striking once one begins to think about it. Whatever else one may say about the complex interaction between Capote and Perry in the film, there is no doubt in my mind that Truman fell in love with the prisoner he was interrogating, although because of the circumstances, this would necessarily remain a physically unconsummated affair -- therefore, all the more pure. Still both films are stories about a love affair between two men -- one Platonic, the other carnal., and in both cases, a kind of forbidden love which ultimately ruins the lovers. It is pointed out by a title at the end of the film that the previously prolific writer, Capote, was never able to finish another book after publishing his masterpiece (if that's what it was) "In Cold Blood" in 1967. His "lover", or significant other, Perry, went to the gallows in 1965, after some four years of stays of execution, and Truman died of alcoholism in 1984 at the not so tender age of sixty.

There seem to be a total absence of abstaining voices to the effect that "Capote" is not a great film -- perhaps even a masterpiece, but I hear some little voice deep inside of me saying – "Nyet" -- there is something just a wee bit fishy here. Having lived myself for years with Truman Capote Live on countless talk shows and other TV appearances of the time, I have a very well formed image of the man, his mannerisms, and the way he talked -- a memory that is like Truman's own, at least 94% correct. Based on this nearly total recall, I must admit that I could find nothing wrong with Hoffman's impersonation of Capote, but impersonations of off-beat, living caricatures (Gagney, Cary Grant and, yes, Truman Capote), is really not that difficult for an accomplished actor to carry off. There is something else about theInterpretation of the Capote character that doesn't sit right with me. Too Hollywoodistic, or something – hard to finger what it is at the moment. In a way the role of Perry was more difficult and, oh yes, there is a thoroughly convincing side role by always on the money Chris Cooper, as the small town sheriff, which I think ought to be recognized. The Harper Lee personnage struck me as so much transparent play-acting, thrown in here and there to make certain plot points. In my estimation Ms. Keener's Harper Lee distracted from or undercut the business every time she came on. But I think that what most turned me off about the film (besides the relentless cascade of facial close-ups with just about no letup) was the underlying implication that this romanticized psychotic murderer (Perry) was somehow worth saving from the inevitable neck-tie party. I identified with Chris Cooper, a friend of the pointlessly massacred family, and wish the script would have allowed him to come forth at some point to say "Hanging is too good for this goddamn animal". The bottom line: Philip S. Hoffman was quite fantastic in a picture I didn't quite like, and I would be quite surprised if he doesn't take the Oscar next month in Hollywood. The question now is, having been a noted supporting actor all these years -- the kind that makes the main guy look good -- (or just steals the scenes he's in) -- can Seymour go back to that? -- after this?? And where are they gonna find more leading roles for this basically star character actor?

There was perhaps a bit more interest to be found in the non-competition films this year than on the competition menu. Beside "Capote" consider such titles as; Altman's ode to Midwest pop philosopher Garson Keillor, "A Prairie Home Companion", Peckinpah"s restored "Pat Garret and Billy the Kid" (the special edition, 1975, featuring a young Bob Dylan), or "Syriana" , the global oil industry expose, which brought George Clooney to town last week. .

To recall the celluloid glory of yore, Berlin always has one major retrospective, and this year the theme is "Dream Women – stars of the fifties". A marvelous poster of Ava Gardner reminds one that it was not without good reason that this barefoot contessa from the Carolinas was often called "THE most beautiful woman in the world". Liz Taylor was classically beautiful, but Ava was astoundingly, shockingly beautiful. Ava films on view include "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", "Mogambo", and "The Barefoot Contessa", while such international icons of pulchritude as Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and the usual Hollywood suspects, as well as lesser known beauties of the time from the USSR, (Tatjana Samoilova of "The Cranes are Flyinng"), Germany's own Hildegard Knef, and from Japan, Takamine Hideko and Hara Setsuko) -- are represented by at least one key film each from the apex of their careers. In addition a very handsome coffee table book called "Traumfrauen" (Dream Women) is on sale at the Zeugnis cinema on Unter den Linden where the series is unfolding. Although the book is currently available only in German, the photos alone make it worth the price. And for seven Euros one can purchase a full sized Ava poster -- the face that launched a million fantasies – No way I'm leaving town without snaring one o' them!

by Chaimpev, Berlin

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