On Thursday afternoon I hitched across the Williamsburg Bridge (the trains didn’t start running again until Friday morning) and then walked up to East Soho to pay a visit to Capote director Bennett Miller.
The idea was mainly to say hello (we’ve been talking since last summer on the phone) and to take stock of the year-end situation, I suppose. Only we didn’t get down to the latter, in part because I got sidetracked by some very cool Dick-and- Perry photos.
Capote director Bennett Miller — 12.22.05, 5:20 pm
And so I didn’t get into Capote‘s primary year-end issues, which, if you ask me, are (a) a strange deficiency of Best Picture heat and (b) a profoundly agonizing Best Actor stand-off happening right now between Capote‘s Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Brokeback Mountain‘s Heath Ledger.
Why would a guest want to bring up a couple of vaguely bothersome issues to his nice-guy host?
It’s not like the movie is anything but a solid success. But more moviegoers should see it, and Oscar approvals are one way of bringing this about. For this to happen the hard fact is that Capote needs to re-ignite a bit. Okay, so it’s bothersome to say this and I’m sorry…but the game is the game is the game.
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Miller, 38, is a relaxed, friendly, quietly reflective sort who’s into listening as much as making himself heard, which right away sets him apart from a lot of filmmakers I’ve run into. And he lives in a spacious, sparsely furnished sixth-floor loft on Lafay- ette Street that feels instantly soothing to walk into.
The moment I did this I succumbed. I said to myself, “Drop it…it’s the late after- noon and it’s cold outside and it’s almost Christmas…forget the hardball and go with the layback.”
And then about halfway into our talk Miller brought out some copies of Richard Avedon’s contact sheets from that 1960 photo session he did with Truman Capote and Clutter-family slayers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Amazing images, all.
Clutter-family killer Perry Smith (l., white shirt) and Truman Capote (r., glasses and jacket) during Richard Avedon photo session sometime in early 1960
The photo session is recreated in Capote, of course, and my first reaction to the Real McCoys was frankly one of surprise. The actual Smith seems much more relaxed and even jovial than the way Clifton Collins, Jr. played him in the film. Much less pensive and guarded.
Mark Pellegrino was a fairly good physical choice to play Hickock in Miller’s film, I suppose, but In Cold Blood director Richard Brooks was, I now realize, being kind to Hickock’s legacy by hiring Scott Wilson to play him in that 1967 film. Look at those strangely slanted eyes. That scowl. That crammed-together, misshapen face (a result of a car accident).
Miller showed me these photos when I mentioned I’d never seen them published anywhere except for a couple of straight-on portrait shots of the killers in an old Life magazine.
The real Richard Hickock, also by Avedon
We talked mostly about the things I’ve always loved about Capote apart from Hoffman’s transcendent performance and the general “all” of it.
Particularly Adam Kimmel’s extraordinary widescreen cinematography, and the suggestions of Andrew Wyeth’s landscapes in the Holcomb, Kansas, portions early on.
And Mychael Danna’s music, which I didn’t really get into until I clicked on the Capote website and started listening to a certain loop from the soundtrack over and over again.
Plus we talked a little bit about technical issues and what the real Holcomb, Kansas, has turned into, and when Miller knew he had gotten it right, and what he and Hoffman might be doing in the future, etc.
A good portion of our chat is here in these installments — part #1 and part #2
If I’d been into stirring the pot, I would have wondered aloud why Capote hasn’t caught any serious Best Picture action thus far. This really should have happened, and I’ve been scratching my head about it for the last couple of months.
It wasn’t that long ago that this exquisitely composed Louis Malle film with a fascinating under-vibe (partly about dread and horror, and partly about deep-down fragile emotion) was all but smothered in praise, starting with its early September debut at the Telluride Film Festival.
12.22.05, 5:23 pm
And there’s no missing the fact that it’s currently the third highest-rated film on the thrown-together Movie City News critics’ ten-best list (behind Good Night, and Good Luck and Brokeback Mountain).
I also would have brought up what I wrote a day or two ago in WIRED, which is that Hoffman was the presumptive Best Actor winner from late August to roughly mid-to-late November until Ledger began surging two or three weeks ago, and how I’m torn by these two performances…torn and divided…and so is everyone else.
It’s going to hurt a little bit no matter which one wins, so let’s hope for a replay of the 1968 Best Actress contest that resulted in a tie when The Lion in Winter‘s Katharine Hepburn and Funny Girl‘s Barbra Streisand both took home trophies.
That would be perfect…that would be really nice. And by suggesting this I feel like I’ve gotten myself off the hook a bit.
I haven’t explained what I meant by calling this article “Miller’s Crossing,” and I guess it’s because last year he was mainly the guy who directed that very cool doc called The Cruise five or six years ago, and post-Capote he’s earned passage into a very high-end realm that few directors have known or enjoyed…and the sky’s the limit from here on.
I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot here. I’m a fan of Peter Jackson’s King Kong…after the 70-minute mark. A modified fan, I should say, because I’m not over-the-moon about it. I liked the rousing CG stuff and the emotional stirrings during the scenes between Kong (i.e., Andy Serkis) and Naomi Watts…but let’s not get carried away.
The point is that this 187-minute movie is full of bits that drive me up the wall, and now that Kong has run into a slowdown at the box-office and I’ve gotten my Jack- son mea culpa out of the way, it’s okay to be cut him down again. I felt a certain muted admiration for Jackson in early December after I’d first seen Kong, and I have to admit it feels more comfortable and natural being in a bash mode.
The once-celebrated, now-being-scrutinized Bronto run sequence in Peter Jackson’s King Kong
How do I vaguely detest thee, Kong? Going from the top…
* Jackson should have included an overture of Max Steiner’s music as a soundtrack-only supplement on the front of the film, to be heard in semi-darkness before the Universal logo and the credits come on, etc. This happened when I first saw Kong at the Academy theatre on the evening of Sunday, 12.4, and Steiner played like gangbusters.
* Captain Englehorn is an Idiot, Part 1: The German-born skipper (Thomas Kretschmann) presumably knows Jack Black’s Carl Denham desperately needs a fetching actress to come along on the voyage and presumably wants Denham to succeed so he’ll get fully paid, and yet the first thing he says when he meets Naomi Watt’s Ann Darrow is to express surprise that she “would take such a risk.”
* The ship is pulling out of the harbor and Adrien Brody’s Jack Driscoll is so keen on getting paid that he doesn’t feel the engines rumbling and the ship moving? He doesn’t say anything to the check-writing Denham as the ship is obviously leaving the wharf?
* Captain Englehorn is an Idiot, Part 2: Since he tells Denham that the first check bounced, it can be assumed that he hasn’t been paid a dime. And yet he’s taking his ship and crew on a long and very expensive sea voyage, trusting that a guy he obviously doesn’t trust will cough up later on.
* That ominous music on the soundtrack and that dumb-ass look of alarm on that actor’s face (is it Evan Parke’s or some other guy’s?) when those bottles of chloroform roll out from the animal cage in the ship’s storage area.
The completely idiotic Capt. Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann, second from left with hat) contemplating the Big Wall
* All of that prolonged bonding crap between Evan Parke and Jamie Bell, and those mentions of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”…a complete bore and a waste of time.
* Captain Englehorn is an Idiot, Part 3: As they sail the Indian Ocean he tells Denham he’s going to drop him off at the nearest Asian port since he’s just gotten a radio message that there’s a warrant out for Denham’s arrest…which will make certain that Englehorn will never get paid and will be stuck for the cost of the voyage out of his own pocket.
* Captain Englehorn is an Idiot, Part 4: As they approach Skull Island Engle- horn is told that the depth is getting shallower and shallower, and yet he proceeds right ahead and smashes the ship into the rocks.
* The area of Skull Island protected by the big wall is all rock even though the rest of the island is all prehistoric flora…green, fertile, covered in overgrowth. How does that work exactly? I’ll tell you how it works. Jackson and co-screen- writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens decided that the villagers live on a barren rocky peninsula.
* The Skull Island natives are ridiculous gargoyles trying to act as deran- ged and bizarre as possible because Jackson told them to do this. (Being unencumbered by matters of taste and restraint allows for all kinds of creative decisions.) I mean, some of the islanders are obviously white New Zealanders with blue or gray eyes and brown-skin makeup, and some look African-American…and it’s all bullshit.
* A Skull Island native is going to pole-vault from the island to Englehorn’s ship in order to abduct Darrow?
* The Skull Islanders are going to use a sophisticated cranking-crane system made of wood and vines and crude rope in order to lower human sacrificial offerings to Kong over the gorge behind the big wall?. Jackson came up with this idiotic contraption because he didn’t want to copy the sacrifice sequence in Merian C. Cooper’s original film too closely…period.
* The more I think about the Bronto run sequence, the more absurd it seems. This bit was cool the first time and I went with it, yes, but there’s no way those guys running under the bellies and legs of the dinosaurs wouldn’t be ketchup.
* Jackson portrays Kyle Chandler’s Bruce Baxter character as a narcissist and a coward in the early stages of the hunt on Skull Island. His defining act is to return to the ship early after chickenheartedly rationalizing that Darrow is almost certainly dead. And yet he switches gears a half-hour later by convincing Englehorn and a few others to return to the treacherous jungle terrain to help Driscoll and the survivors of Kong’s attack, and they arrive just in time to start shooting at the bugs in the pit.
* Jackson’s two snotty references to the 1933 Merian C. Cooper film. He has Darrow and Baxter say the dialogue from a romantic scene in the ’33 film as a way of saying to the audience, “Listen to that hokey dialogue.” And in Denham’s New York stage show in Act Three he recreates the look of Cooper’s Skull Island char- acters and has them do that bent-over Kong sacrifice dance.
There is no inspiration in the context of the film for this — it’s just another indulgent Peter Jackson wank. And he’s clearly making a point that Cooper’s film is hokey and antiquated, and that his is far more on top of it.
A guy named Steve Clark wrote last week insisting that Kong “is not a master- piece but jeez, I guess that very lack of discipline helps push it to greatness. It is a great film partly because it is so out of control, imperfect and undisciplined.
“My friends think I’m retarded. They said it was all ‘too much’ and ‘too long.’ But if this Kong weren’t too much, something would have been seriously amiss. Or at least routine. Though when I say this all I feel are people wincing at me. I feel like Armond White!
“This film is an orgy of excess and if it weren’t three hours long with too much action, it would be a lesser film. It needs to be too much but only in the right way. I think the movie is a bloated, brilliant fucking mess, but it’s a great film.
“Why? Partly because it goes semi-meta toward the end, critiquing itself, replay- ing itself as a horrible Broadway production; it lashes out at the audience for swallowing it whole.
“But most importantly, its corny old controlling idea works wonderfully. The rela- tionship between Naomi Watts and Kong is a heartbreaker. This is Peter Jack- son’s Apocalypse Now…and it’ll be all downhill from here on. (I’m speaking as a fan who thinks the LOTR films are his Godfather trilogy…sorry.)
“Jack Black = psychotically super-indulgent, obsessive filmmaker = Peter Jackson!”
The only thing stopping me from seeing Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential at an uptown screening room in Manhattan on Tuesday (12.20) was the transit strike…but of course, it didn’t.
I decided to leg it or hitch it, so I started walking from Montrose and Bushwick around 3:45 pm, and I made it to Sony headquarters at Madison Avenue and 55th Street by 5:15 pm…piece of cake.
And then I walked back with two stops and made it home by 9:30 pm. About 140 blocks, give or take. I wouldn’t like it, but I could do this every day.
It was a little over a mile from my place to the Williamsburg bridge. It was brutally cold, in the mid 20s, and at first I was thinking that I might wimp out. But speed- walking kept me warm and I soon got used to it.
A lot of places claim to sell the world’s greatest burgers but Paul’s Burgers, on the east side of 2nd Avenue just south of St. Mark’s Place, is no pretender.
A dozen or so carolers on East 3rd Street near 1st Avenue, around 9 pm. People watching from their open apartment windows cheered when they finished. The group has no name — they’re just neighborhood locals, and they do this every year.
There were no empty cabs so I thumbed a ride because it can be murder walking over a big river with the icy wind and everything. A couple of guys driving a van for a Lower East Side bakery picked me up and dropped me at 1st Avenue and 3rd street. I also caught a ride over the bridge back to Brooklyn around 9 pm.
Crisis brings out the charity in people, and you can’t do better in a crisis than be in the company of New Yorkers.
The first ride put me ahead of schedule so I stopped for a quick one at Paul’s Bur- gers on 2nd Avenue just south of St. Marks Place.
On the way back on East 3rd Street I came upon a group of Christmas carolers singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” I took some shots and fell instantly in love with these guys. Others were stopping and, I gathered, having the same reaction. It sounds like a holiday cliche to say this, but it was a truly beautiful moment.
The two guys who picked me up on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge on Tuesday, 12.20.05, around 4:10 pm.
Looking up from northwest corner of Park Avenue and 38th Street — Tuesday, 12.20.05, 4:50 pm.
Big Daddy’s Diner, 239 Park Ave., New York, NY 10017
South-facing facade of Grand Central Station — Tuesday, 12.20.05, 4:45 pm.
Called on the Carpet
The New York Times‘ “Carpetbagger” blogger David Carr ran an item at 8:45 this morning (12.21) titled “Have the Terrorists Won?”
It read, “Munich, which got pounded coming out of the gate, seems to be enjoying a bit of a bounce. The L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein still favors Broke- back, but says that Munich has a shot, in part because people are starting to see the movie instead of just the controversy.”
To which I have two things to say: (1) Munich is a pretty good film that hasn’t a chance because of all the people slamming it for being repetitious and tedious and all the politicos trying to kill it for its views about dealing with terrorism, and (2) Is the Carpetbagger me a “terrorist” and if he is, what the fuck?
I’m guessing that Carr is probably referring to the people who’ve written political attacks on Munich. But on the chance he might have been referring to me, I wrote Carr and said…
“So people taking the pulse of this town and setting their insect antennae to high-sensitivity mode and determining that the general response to Munich will not result in a Best Picture Oscar (and perhaps not even a Best Picture nomination) are ‘terrorists’?
“I get the inference (or I think I do) because you started out with a mention of the Goldstein column, which seemed to mainly address the Hollywood side of the rumpus.
“All I know is that I’m trying to read the situation as clearly as possible. I found Munich to be a pretty good film with a cruddy third act, but more importantly I’ve heard from the get-go that (a) others are less taken with it, (b) some Jewish Academy members are TRULY DOWN ON IT and loathe the political message it’s sending, (c) that the words ‘repetitive’ and ‘self-important’ apply.
“I am also one of many who recoiled in distaste (and continue to recoil in distate) from that obnoxious Time magazine proclamation that Munich, lo and behold, is ‘Spielberg’s Secret Masterpiece.’
“Am I a terrorist-minded observer for — okay, I admit it — chuckling with satisfaction over the news media spectacle of a pseudo-legendary director with a massive ego…a legendary industry figure famous for commanding obeisance gestures from other primates with a mere arching of his eyebrows…being hit and possibly (who knows?) brought down?
Mathieu Kassovitz, Eric Bana in Steven Spielberg’s Munich
“Am I a terrorist at heart because it frankly feels good inside to see Spielberg, a gifted director but also, his few excellent films aside, the most successful hack in Hollywood history…a man of obviously limited intellectual vigor with more money than God being tackled and taken down by guys in the trench? That’s a bad thing?
“We’re living in a very skewed, cynical and twisted world.
“All I am, really, is a man of constant sorrow whose days are sometimes briefly brightened when Munich implodings happen…and they don’t happen enough.
“This reasonably good movie has never been Oscar calibre, not really…and I hate it when people reflexively bend over to smooch Spielberg’s ass.
“Munich is a fairly thoughtful, passably good film that says the right thing, agreed, but in a lot of journalist minds it has been a big presumptive Oscar pick from the get-go because it’s a Steven Spielberg film, because the subject is ‘important’ (i.e., about the fate of Israel), and above all because it’s being released in late December.
“And now there’s a backswing in its favor because people are taking a second look and…what?…feeling sorry for it because ‘terrorists’ have been over-zealous in their attacks?
Geoffrey Rush, Bana
“I guess I can confess the truth now. I’m actually a triple agent working for Univer- sal. The plan all along was to try and create a sympathy backlash for Munich by people like calling a spade a spade and predicting its downfall.
“Like the plan hatched by Marlene Dietrich to save Tyrone Power in Witness for the Prosecution, I told my Universal brown-bag employer (a guy I met after-hours in an underground garage in Century City) just after that disastrous Time cover that the ony way out would be for bloggers like myself to over-play the ‘Munich is toast’ card…only then would industry and media opinion eventually swing back in its favor.”
It used to be Lions Gate — now it’s LIONSGATE. The change was announced last week at a pleasant press breakfast held at Lion’s Gate…I mean, LIONSGATE headquarters in Santa Monica.
“I am from Mexico and the King Kong opened here last Friday. I went to see it on Saturday and expected a big line in a theater were you usually have to wait about an hour in line if you want to get a good seat for a tentpole flick. Anyway, I arrived an hour early and only half the seats had been sold, with the theater opening its doors with no line at all about half hour before the movie started.
“Eventually, I have to say, the theater did fill up, but it was kind of weird to see such a big movie performing like this in that theater during opening weekend.
“I’ve been kind of testing friends of mine about their eagerness to see this movie and the consensus is pretty discouraging. Most of my female friends just don’t care about it. And while some guys are certainly excited, most of them said that they would see it because it was the movie for the holidays, meaning that I got a vibe leaning more towards the likes of having to watch the movie instead of just wanting to.” — Pepe Ruiloba
Del Mar Nation
“I agree with your thoughts on Ennis Del Mar-ism. I’ve been and still am to a certain degree guilty of it, staying in a job that I like but not risking failure with something that I love. But I disagree that straight couples or straight people in general won’t be able to relate to this movie.
“The same thing that Ennis Del Mar wasn’t able to overcome in the movie is the same reason I think the general population might not want to see this movie or relate to it. Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of caring about or relating to people who engage in acts seen as a sin in the eyes of God.
“But the theme of love is universal. Our search for meaningful relationships is universal. We all do it. Sometimes searching our whole lives. And I’d venture to say that most of us have been in the position of one or both of these characters; loving someone so wholly who couldn’t love you back or being in a relationship with someone who you couldn’t give what they wanted. Everyone has loved. And anyone who denies it is a liar.
“The thing that hit me hardest and what grieved me the most, though, is how legitimate I felt Ennis Del Mar’s fear actually was. The flashback sequence of him as a child seeing what he saw. Living in a time when being gay was kept totally in the closet. Not to mention being in Bumblefuck, Wyoming, where I’m sure there isn’t much if any of a gay community. And being in a place where people STILL aren’t too accepting of that lifestyle.
“My sadness came not because I can personally relate (I’m a straight white male), but because I feel empathy for people who have to live with this kind of conflict. Growing up to believe it’s wrong and yet still feeling it. Feeling such a strong connection for someone but being afraid you’ll be outcast or worse beaten or killed. This shit happens for real. Can we say Matthew Shepard just to name one?
“And it’s not fair. What do I have to deal with being a white, heterosexual, middle-class male? Practically nothing. I can love who I want to. I won’t be judged by the color of my skin or who I choose to have sex with. I won’t be compromised because I’m female. I’m priveleged. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s right and don’t feel or think about the people who aren’t.
“If people can get over their own fears relating to homosexuality and put those aside, and to see the movie for what it really is — a tragic love story — then they can easily relate to the themes in this movie and be moved by it.” — Josh Bihary
“p.s.: I think the Brokeback Mountain numbers speak for themselves and I hope this movie does well and gets the support it deserves come Oscar time. Super high per screen averages over two weekends. $2 million from 69 screens! That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.
“I personally went to see it Sunday evening in Seattle and at the Egyptian theater for the 7pm show the line was literally down the block and around the corner. We went to the other theater it was playing at, the Harvard Exit, and immediately got in line. Within 15 minutes, the line was nearly as long.
“I even saw older folks in line as well. If it can keep this kind of interest up, it will easily make its money back and then some.”
Former Hollywood Elsewhere columnist Jett Wells, a senior at Brookline High Schhol, during track meet in indoor Roxbury track stadium — Sunday, 12.18.05, 1:15 pm.
Poinsettias on front porch area of Le Pain Quotidien at Melrose and Westbourne
The great Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, The White Diamond) during chat at Director’s Guild last Friday, 12.16.05, 12:45 pm.