Infamous is the latest proof I’ve had that people in Hollywood don’t know their asses from…I dunno, their faces, I think. 10 times better as a movie than the thoroughly overrated Capote, the movie stars a remarkable Toby Jones as TC in a lived-in performance as opposed to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s good impression. As the spouse said, we ALL did Truman Capote impressions in the 70s. The guy was everywhere. You name the talk show, he was on it, usually pretty loaded (joining dozens of other writers whose best work was long behind them, including a tragic Jack Kerouac and a grinning and tragic but seemingly having more fun Tennessee Williams), and the languid lisp was almost as easy as Jack Nicholson’s creepy wheeze is today.
Jones makes Capote fun and weirdly irresistible. So does the writer and director, Douglas McGrath, who wisely uses a Stephane Grapelli-ish score throughout the scenes with socialites (Sigourney Weaver is a marvelous Babe Paley) and judiciously switches to a plaintive, minimal piano for the drama. Capote the movie takes itself and its subject way too seriously. Infamous gets it just right. Jones doesn’t mince, he skips and trips the light fantastic, conveying a delight and spirit that Hoffman barely touched upon. The third time someone calls Truman a woman, he says, “Are they just being mean or do you think they really can’t tell?,” effectively grabbing the running gag by the horns and making it even funnier. And because the comedy’s good, the tragedy is much more affecting. It also helps that Jones is the right size and exactly gets Capote’s posture and body language, as opposed to Hoffman, who’s a bigger guy and just never looks as vulnerable. Hoffman clearly studied tape after tape of Capote – but as an old has-been. Jones gets the energy, lightness, and rapier wit, never better demonstrated than when he’s being taunted on death row. (“Suck my cock, faggot.” “Sorry, my dear, it won’t fit through the bars.”)
There’s a lot of bad acting in the movie. Sandra Bullock’s dolorous performance renders all of her lines as if she’s in first year dialect class – weird, considering she hails from Virginia. Peter Bogdanivich is no better in front of the camera than he has been in back of it now that he doesn’t have Polly Platt to make his movies great. The guy who plays Gore Vidal is just awful. No matter. The movie is still a treat, riveting, funny, and ultimately very sad, and helps you understand why Capote captivated so many people even as he repelled so many others.
And as an overall film, it’s also a lot better. It lacks that studied, my-this-is-important air that ruins so many movies that could be respectable modest efforts but instead are Full Blown Oscar Contenders (Shakespeare in Love, English Patient, and pretty much anything else produced by Miramax in the last 15 years). Props to any director who understands that comedy makes tragedy better. Comedy is, after all, incredibly contrived; ultimately, the emperor is always naked and fat. Look at the end of any Shakespeare comedy: he’s gone about as fur as he can go, and generally marries people off so quickly that you don’t have time, until afterward, to reason out that they’re not going to be very happy and may in fact be rather miserable. At the end of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the 4 lovers, who have been confused and chasing each other all over the forest the night before and having a grand old time, have nothing, in some cases literally, to say. What could they say? The guys have proven that they’re basically pigs, and the women have got to feel a little annoyed that the guys they’ve been throwing themselves at are such….well, pigs. Twelfth Night is even more depressing. The two delightful leading women – women always come out best in Shakespeare’s comedies – are stuck with a couple of jerks who have shown little other than well-turned ankles throughout the play. Thirteenth night is SO going to suck.
A lot of these ideas are heavily influenced (possibly stolen) from Walter Kerr’s wonderful book, Tragedy and Comedy, where he says that the comedy mask isn’t smiling; it’s grimacing, quite horribly, in a twisted, upside-down version of the tragedy mask (which is, by the way, in agony as opposed to just sort of depressed). The best stuff that the spouse writes is tinged and sometimes downright dripping with someone’s blood (fairly often, his own; living with a funny person ain’t pretty). I probably dislike bloodshed more than the next yahoo, yet it’s only in confronting the dark that we can really appreciate the light.
Which is probably why I’m not one for formula comedy. The other night the eldest proposed we watched something and that she was in the mood for comedy. But her suggestions – That Thing You Do, My Best Friend’s Wedding, some Drew Barrymore thing – set my teeth on edge. I mean, I just hate that shit. There’s absolutely nothing to think about. It’s just blather and rot about the people Hollywood decides are pretty and they smile a lot with these big teeth and occasionally make sad puppy faces because they get a zit or their record’s number 6 instead of number 1 or their record’s number 1 but they’ve got a zit anyway and…..ARGH. Just shoot someone, as long as it’s not anyone I care about, meaning anyone in the movie because who could really give a rat’s ass about any of these assholes? (I think we compromised with a documentary.)
And so, Infamous. A movie about liars and why they thrive and why they also create their own kind of hell. A great line, which sounds like verbatim Capote but maybe isn’t, is “Alcohol. Suicide for the faint of heart.” Lying, according to the movie and personal experience, is another way to slowly kill yourself. Realizing stuff like that, and also seeing that someone else took the time and had the balls to say it, beats watching the pretty people get that chart-topper and clear skin, yet again, any day of the week in my book.