NY Mirror

BENNETT MILLER rang—you know, the talent from Mamaroneck who directed Capote, about the mixture of compassion and manipulation behind the making of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. “Am I the next Capote?” was naturally my first question. “You are,” Miller obliged as I prepared to be stroked. “You’re going to charm and disarm me and then betray me. You will laugh your way through my defenses and peel back the layers and find the chink in my armor and thrust your sword and reach your arm through my ribs and pull out my heart, throw it on the ground, puncture it with the heel of your pumps that I know you’re wearing right now, and then put your cigarette out in it. In that way you are the new Capote.” Goshers, I was hoping more for, “Yes, you’re a truly brilliant writer for the new age,” but hey, I’ll take it.

While I tried to figure how to pull his heart out over the phone, Miller heard me clanking away on my keyboard, recording his words like a digital maniac. “You’re a fantastic typist,” he conceded, piercing through my armor. “That sounds like 60 to 65 words a minute. Actually you’re playing PlayStation, not listening to a word.” No, I was truly hanging onto every syllable, and I was thrilled to realize that at least I’m a brilliant typist. Anyway, how did he compensate for PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN being so much taller than Capote was? (These are the kinds of questions that make a writer so incredibly innovative.) Miller said he used little tricks like casting taller people around him. Isn’t that discriminatory? “Are you nuts?” he responded. “What do you think casting is? It’s a process of discriminating.”

Point taken. But more lip-smackingly, was Capote casting around for an indiscriminate love match with his not unattractive criminal subject Perry Edward Smith? No way, said Miller, who’d consulted biographer GERALD CLARKE about this. “In Cold Blood meant more to him than anything else. He wasn’t about to risk it all for a blowjob!” (So I’m not the new Capote.) Well, from the movie, you sense that Tru didn’t enjoy much conjugation with his own boyfriend either. Miller explained that a make-out
scene got cut for “narrative reasons,” and besides, by this point their relationship had become as platonic and open as mine and Keanu’s.

As we peeled back more layers, Miller said the acclaim he’s gotten for the film has been like “a very clean, sober high and relief.” Pleased for him, I refused to carry out my betrayal.


For narrative reasons I’m moving on to typing about the already legendary
In My Life, the Broadway lemon which I approached hoping for a sober high while thinking, “It had better not disappoint me and be good.” It didn’t. In fact, the vanity production (backed by some straining-to-stay-anonymous lunatic) proves once and for all that a guy with Tourette’s syndrome, a brain tumor, and two dead family members doesn’t make for a high-kickin’ musical, even if he’s as cute as the script’s treatment of his disabilities. (“Fuck suck duck,” he screams as his girlfriend giggles appreciatively.) What’s more, daffy ditties about MRI exams generally don’t enchant, even if led by a prancing emissary from heaven who shows that you obviously don’ t get eternal damnation if you’re gay—though he probably should. (“There’s a little rumor/ Someone’s got a tumor,” he feyly croons.) But the scene that provoked the most lemony snickers the night I went had a rocker apologizing to a big-voiced little girl for having mowed her down in a car accident. (“No problem,” the little angel pretty much replies before tottering off.) Honey, I have practically every illness represented in this show and I still didn’t like it.

Patrons were screaming “fuck,” “suck,” and “duck, you sucker” when I judged the five-hour-long finals of WILL CLARK‘s Porn Idol contest at O.W. bar, where wannabe adult stars made love to a banana, jerked off a shampoo bottle, and answered Clark’s pert questions like “Are you a top or a bottom?” (“Yes” was a popular response.) The contest drew a healthy helping of Marymount students of the type who obviously run around squealing, “Mary, mount me!” But the winner was the dog walker from Gastineau Girls who truly walked a dog when he gamely mounted me on the pool table for photos.

At the Roxy, MADONNA loomed before us in the wee hours—and in a ’70s feathered hairdo—to say that the club’s DJs were a crucial part of her, like, roots. (“My whole career started with 12 inches,” she cracked. “Some girls have all the luck.”) Looking kabbalah-tastic, Maddy danced onstage to her new hits for days, even prancing about with bright-eyed clubbies who were bloody from pinching themselves. It was a great show, but of course throngs of queens left bitching that she didn’t sing.

It was actually the second time I’d been to the place that night. (This is the kind of unorthodox chronology that makes me better than Capote.) Earlier on, there was a benefit celebrating the 20th anniversary of Florent, where I asked restaurateur FLORENT MORELLET why his big cause, “hastened death” (a nicer term than suicide), is so important. He went on for 10 minutes, graciously explaining the need for “aid in dying,” after which I brilliantly said, “But this is a pretty festive event considering it’s for killing oneself.” Awkward silence. “Oh, no! This is a benefit for the High Line!” he shrieked. Still, it was a pretty festive event.

So was porn prince MICHAEL LUCAS‘s house party, which I dragged Mom to, walker and all, without telling her any of the background. “Everyone’s so nice!” she exclaimed about the roomful of fisters, fuckers, and felchers. (And they are, they are—from top to bottom.)


Farther uptown, at the Weather Man premiere, I asked restaurateur ELAINE KAUFMAN about her place’s recent TAB HUNTER party. “He was very charming,” she crowed. Other bashes? “The little guy, MICHAEL GROSS, had a book party.” Any others? “They’re all the same,” she deadpanned. “I have to tell you?”

After the screening, co-star HOPE DAVIS had to tell me that someone near her was offended by the film’s cameltoe montage. “That’s shocking?” she said. “Downtown there’s a billboard of a guy coming out of the waves and a girl’s about to blow him, and their heads turn to the camera. That’s the closest thing to pornography. And the cameltoe thing is shocking?” Not to the man near me who was making appreciative noises. (I think he even liked the gay pedophile.)

Back to the little guy—Michael Gross, not Capote—a Barnes & Noble ad in the Times unfortunately ran with the wrong photo. It was of MICHAEL JOSEPH GROSS, a whole other, maybe even taller entity (but not by 12 inches).

But even a short-tempered Times review can’t bring hastened death to The Odd Couple, which is comfy, mechanical, and sold-out. Like The Producers, this chestnut is basically a male love story, with messy Oscar falling for fussy Felix, the original metrosexual, oven mitts and all. Naturally, I hunted for the lines reeking of gay subtext: “You’re tops with me, Oscar!” “That’s really funny coming from a fruitcake like you,” “Don’t forget to look at my meat,” and Oscar’s line, after Felix moves out: “We broke up!” At the party, I asked JERRY SEINFELD if it was really a gay love story. After humorously urging me to give him a firmer handshake, he said, “No, it’s a traditional love story.” Between whom? “Between two people.” And I guess they’re not about to risk it all for a blowjob.

Mo Pitkin’s wall of fame
photo: Tricia Romano

Litter Box
Monsters and Mo’s

HX magazine’s 14th anniversary party at Avalon was a woozy waltz down memory lane, magically turning the club back into the colorfully demented Limelight before my jaded eyes. My booth was enlivened by a straight couple violently making out, a fat guy praying on his knees, a shirtless club kid staring at me with glazed eyes, and someone screaming, “Did you see Party Monster?” All of the above eagerly held out their glasses when someone came around with warm vodka . . . On a calmer note, the restaurant- showcase Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction—from the Two Boots people—is a hit, thanks to its East Villagey feel and Hadassah/Havana menu (they actually have a Cuban Reuben). The Satisfaction salad is always available—they never say “We can’t get no Satisfaction.” . . . Not satisfied with PARIS HILTON‘s last book? I hear she’s doing another one . . . Speaking of more, more, more, spies also say the World of Wonder boys will get their own channel . . . Channeling a preacher man, CARLTON J. SMITH starred in another powerhouse Motown brunch at B.B. King’s and told the crowd, “God is in the lowest crack house. He’s even in the White House—though theyain’t listening!”


Hoffman Overpowers as Truman in ‘Cold’-Blooded Biopic

Directed by Bennett Miller from actor Dan Futterman’s script and co-produced by star Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote is a cool and polished hall of mirrors reflecting the ways in which Truman Capote came to write (and be written by) In Cold Blood—the “nonfiction novel” about the senseless massacre of a Kansas farm family and the sociopathic drifters who committed the crime.

The author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was already experimenting with journalism when he read an account of the killings in The New York Times. Armed with a New Yorker assignment and accompanied by faithful research assistant Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), soon to publish To Kill a Mockingbird, Capote ventured into America’s heart of darkness, leveraging his celebrity to gain unprecedented access to the chief investigator (Chris Cooper) and later the perps, Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) and Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). Best known for The Cruise, his 1998 docu-portrait of tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch, Miller has experience directing a vehicle for motormouth megalomania. But when Capote hits a snag of sameness, the engine stalls and the constant hum of purposeful activity rises to a dull roar.

In Cold Blood had the good fortune to be published early in the season of America’s domestic apocalypse. Its mass market saturation anticipated the two meaningless mass murders in the summer of 1966—Richard Speck’s slaughter of eight student nurses and Charles Whitman’s University of Texas clock tower shooting spree—and it was filmed by Richard Brooks in 1967. Hopelessly square in the year of Bonnie and Clyde, the movie starred Robert Blake, no less, as Smith and featured the terminally sarcastic Paul Stewart (Citizen Kane‘s valet) in the Capote role. Capote is In Cold Blood‘s In Cold Blood: Amid the true-crime scenes, Truman dazzles the audience at the 92nd Street Y and drools over Smith’s notebooks: “He’s a gold mine.”

Futterman has cited Janet Malcolm’s critique of journalism as his source of inspiration. It has been argued (I believe by Malcolm) that, in making Hickock and Smith into literary characters, Capote humanized them. That’s not true of Capote, where even their execution is all about Truman. “I don’t know what you must think of me,” he whines as the smirking killers are harnessed for the gallows. The horrors of random murder or capital punishment are subsumed by Capote’s narcissism. Nailing the writer’s querulous drawl, Hoffman plays him as a vain and peevish monster of self-absorption. Solipsism may even be the meaning of the movie. But in the bell jar that is Capote, Hoffman bogarts the oxygen; everyone else asphyxiates. Fame is its own punishment. The credit crawl suggests that In Cold Blood made Capote the most famous writer in America—Johnny Carson’s garden gnome familiar—and ruined his life.


See It Now

School is in, and this year’s edition of the New York Film Festival, which runs from September 23 through October 9 at Lincoln Center, is nothing if not educational. History lessons abound, ranging from ’50s America and ancient Israel to post–World War II Japan and post-’68 France. The Dardenne brothers, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Aleksandr Sokurov are on hand to give (very different) master classes in filmmaking—although The Death of Mr. Lazarescu , by hitherto unknown Cristi Puiu, may be the most impressive tour de force.

The lineup includes several eccentric literary adaptations and more than a few movies pondering the tortured ethical relationship between art and life. Trend spotters may also note that, out of five East Asian films, three are from South Korea, and of the 16 titles that have distribution, no fewer than five belong to Sony, including the director’s cut of Antonioni’s The Passenger. Undistributed must-sees include Hou’s Three Times, Sokurov’s The Sun, and Patrice Chéreau’s Gabrielle. There may even be tickets. J. HOBERMAN

David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in director George Clooney’s Good Night, And Good Luck.
photo: Melinda Sue Gordon

Good Night, and Good Luck

[September 23]
The NYFF opens with a classy, credible docudrama—George Clooney’s restaging of the 1954 vid-screen prizefight in which urbane newsman Edward R. Murrow vanquished roughneck demagogue Joe McCarthy. Taking its title from Murrow’s trademark sign-off, the movie is shot in crisp black-and-white, makes clever use of vintage footage, and celebrates the fraternity of the newsroom with a strong ensemble cast. David Strathairn’s smartly stylized Murrow is admirably ascetic—and so, for the most part, is the movie. It’s an intelligent re-creation with a lesson that has scarcely dated—one need only think back a year to the fall of Dan Rather. Warner Independent, opens October 7.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

[September 24 and 25]
The second feature by 38-year-old Romanian ex-painter Cristi Puiu is an ode to mortality, albeit not without a certain grim humor. An old drunk awakes with a headache and, after a day of self-medication, calls 911. The ambulance takes over 30 minutes (film time) to arrive, and from the limbo of his squalid flat, Mr. Lazarescu enters hell—transported from hospital to hospital for the movie’s remaining two hours, to be variously diagnosed, browbeaten, and ignored by a harried succession of brilliantly acted doctors and nurses. As filmmaking, it’s a tour de force, with Puiu simulating the institutional texture of a Frederick Wiseman vérité. Tartan, opens early 2006. J.H.

[September 24]
Michel Negroponte continues his slow-moving career project of documenting New York’s underground heartbeat with this intimate video essay, produced for HBO, about a methadone clinic and its cast of desperate clients. The filmmaker’s narration is alive with moving metaphors about life under addiction and its inescapable misery, and the individuals he focuses on (many over 50 and surprisingly articulate even as they’re nodding off) are stirring cases of struggle against internal monstrosities. But the surface seems only scratched, and thanks to the film’s brevity (88 minutes), we remain tourists, looking in from the outside. HBO, airs October 6. MICHAEL ATKINSON

L’Enfant (The Child)
[September 24 and 25]
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s hot streak continues. By now, the brothers have a style and set of interests as instantly recognizable as any filmmakers in the world—visceral camerawork, impeccable performances, a concern with Belgium’s dispossessed, an unlikely affinity for Robert Bresson. As their first Palme d’Or winner, Rosetta, remade Mouchette, so their second, The Child, revisits Pickpocket. Typically, it’s structured as a series of tasks, culminating in a chase that, both metaphoric and intensely physical, is also a descent into the depths. The remarkable thing about the Dardennes is their complex single-mindedness. Each film is an odyssey (toward grace?) in a world that could hardly seem more material. Sony Pictures Classics, opens March 2006. J.H.

Avenge but One of My Two Eyes
[September 25]
Scenes from an occupation: Israeli documentarian Avi Mograbi plays tourist, juxtaposing camcorder images of furious Palestinians queued at various checkpoints with those of expansive Israeli guides explicating the shrine of Masada (or teachers holding forth on the cult of Samson). His unstated, heretical thesis is that the Palestinians have adopted the suicidal heroism that is a cornerstone of right-wing Zionism. To add to the pathos, the action is interspersed with telephone transmissions seemingly triggered by the filmmaker’s TV. Mograbi’s first-person film was seemingly chosen to provide a counterpoint with the Palestinian drama Paradise Now (see page 35) and is no less appalling. No distributor. J.H.

[September 25 and 26]
Waiting perhaps for Ocean’s 13, Steven Soderbergh experiments—venturing into deepest America (small-town Ohio) to direct a cast of nonactors in an outrageous, if deliberately uninflected, melodrama. Bubble is set largely in an underpopulated doll factory (get it?) and is so aggressively disorienting in its banality that it begins to resemble science fiction.
Magnolia, opens January 2006. J.H.


The Squid and the Whale
[September 26 and 28]
Noah Baumbach’s cine-memoir dramatizes his parents’ separation. Cruel and tender, this is a richly detailed, rarely sentimental, and even revelatory child’s vision of a particular Park Slope haute boho milieu. The movie is often funny, but despite the Salinger-esque overtones, it’s far from cute—least of all in its mortifying view of teenage sex. The camera may seem casual, but the period mise-en-scéne is beyond fastidious. Samuel Goldwyn Films, opens October 5. J.H.

I Am
[September 27 and 29]
Tracing the rough footprints of both Mouchette and The 400 Blows, Dorota Kedzierzawska’s adroitly executed ballade follows an elfin Polish boy with a gimlet stare and quick reflexes (the remarkably confident Piotr Jagielski) who, after being rejected by his deranged-party-animal mother, escapes from an orphanage, returns to his barren hometown, and exists scrounging on the edges of others’ lives and property. The details are exact and dire, but the romantic Michael Nyman score and swooningly lovely autumnal cinematography—peach-misted mornings, sulfurous leaf-strewn forests—muddle the thrust. Childhood suffering shot like a Hallmark card is difficult to take seriously. No distributor. M.A.

[September 27 and 28]
Dust off the Oscar—it’s the Philip Seymour Hoffman show. The star and co-producer of Bennett Miller’s account of how Truman Capote came to write (or perhaps be written by) In Cold Blood and thus achieve the status of America’s most famous author, Hoffman nails Capote’s querulous drawl and pudgy hauteur. He plays the writer as a vain and peevish monster of self-absorption—accurate perhaps, but a performance that uses up the oxygen for the rest of the cast. Rare is the movie in which Catherine Keener, as Harper Lee, is the warmest presence. Sony Pictures Classics, opening September 30.

Something Like Happiness
[September 29 and October 1]
The equivocal title is instructive: Czech director Bohdan Sláma’s minor-key slice of life is so muted and oblique it takes a while to suss out its tangled relationships and its abiding faith in the basic decency of ordinary people. In a hideous industrialized suburb, a young man and the unavailable young woman he not so secretly loves find themselves serving as proxy parents; the role-play, needless to say, leaves its mark in subtle, indelible ways. The movie’s studious modesty makes its last-minute melancholic surge all the more surprising.
No distributor. DENNIS LIM

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
[September 30 and October 2]
Park Chanwook keeps his singular ball in the air with this capstone to his so-called vengeance trilogy, in which a ravishing convict (Lee Yeong-ae) is released after 13 years for killing a child and reveals (slowly, to us) an elaborate payback plot for the real murderer. Essentially a mirror image of the far superior Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance that lifts its story philosophy from The Shawshank Redemption, the movie’s a vicious and entertaining entry in the Korean New Wave’s pulp grinder—that is, until the moral bomb drop of the last third, when the Parkian questions of guilt, grief, and justice surface with inexorable anxiety. Tartan, opens early 2006. M.A.

[September 30 and October 1]
Lars von Trier’s disappointing Dogville sequel follows Grace, now played by a flustered Bryce Dallas Howard, to an Alabama plantation where slavery is still in effect. The road to hell is paved with good intentions: Grace sets out to right a wrong, using her father’s gangsters for muscle. The movie has something (but not too much) to say about race; more resonant, although soon dropped from the schema, is the parallel between Grace’s enforced lessons in democracy and George Bush’s Iraq adventure. Stunt-meister that he is, von Trier shouldn’t repeat himself. The filmmaker uses Dogville‘s formal devices to lesser effect and his boredom is contagious. IFC, opens winter 2006.

Blue Movie
[October 1]
A/k/a Fuck, this once notorious, banned-in–New York late–Andy Warhol opus—showing, for the first time in years, as part of the festival’s “Views From the Avant-Garde” sidebar—preserves an October 1968 afternoon in all its hipster glory. Factory superstar Viva and her straight man Louis Waldron hang out, talk about the war in Vietnam, eat lunch, take a shower, and have sexual intercourse—not necessarily in that order. The camera is static; the affection seems genuine. The couple may be too self-conscious to suggest Adam and Eve, but as Warhol movies go, Blue Movie is transcendently good-natured. J.H.


[October 1]
The quasi-snuff DV equivalent of a Poe poem, Shinya Tsukamoto’s 50-minute
featurette—screening once, at midnight—largely consists of a terrified man (the director himself) writhing around in a dark and extremely confined space. He doesn’t remember how he got there and has no clue how to get out. Visceral and merciless, Tsukamoto’s film painstakingly details a convincing psychosomatic response to a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare. Fake blood is freely spilled, but the most terrifying moments are when there’s nothing to see.
No distributor. D.L.

Breakfast on Pluto
[October 1 and 2] J.H.
Neil Jordan waxes literary in this overwrought confection—a mélange of sentimental magic realism, political blather, and painfully bad pop music based on a novel by Patrick McCabe (author of The Butcher Boy). Cillian Murphy’s one-note performance amplifies the movie’s excruciating longueurs. As the flirtatious androgyne Kitten, he peaks way too early with an eye-batting turn as a glam-rock squaw. Sony Pictures Classics, opens November 18.

Tale of Cinema
[October 1 and 2]
NYFF regular Hong Sang-soo returns for the third time with another melancholy comedy about an ineffectual, clueless, good-looking lout. In this case, Hong’s protag is a former film student who believes that his hapless love life has been appropriated as material by a more successful classmate. Tale of Cinema is at once more structurally rigorous and more relaxed than its immediate precursor, Woman Is the Future of Man. No distributor. J.H.

The President’s Last Bang
[October 3 and 4]
Perhaps the most audacious movie in the festival, at least on its home territory, Im Sang-soo’s satire treats the 1979 assassination of longtime South Korean dictator Major General Park Chung-hee as the occasion for a bloody farce. The ruling elite stages a geriatric drunken orgy as the monumentally incompetent Korea CIA puts its conspiracy into action. It’s not always easy to follow, but the attitude is unmistakable. Kino, opens October 14. J.H.

Who’s Camus Anyway?
[October 3 and 4]
Back in the mid 1980s, Mitsuo Yanagimachi was one of the young stars of Japanese cinema. Then he went AWOL. To judge from this unexpectedly Altman-esque ensemble comedy, he’s served a bit of time teaching college filmmaking. An energetic satire of youthful self-importance, filled with crushes, complications, and long tracking shots, it’s clever, entertaining, and awfully familiar—up until the particular narrative preoccupation that had been the young Yanagimachi’s own comes suddenly to the fore. No distributor. J.H.

Beyond the Rocks
[October 5]
A minor miracle, this long-lost 1922 silent was discovered, nearly complete, in a Dutch collection and is notable mainly for the dream pairing of Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. She was by far the bigger star at the time and seems a bit of a hard-faced floozy for the role of the ingenue; he’s a bit soft by contrast, but a total natural. Swanson’s outfits aside, this sub-DeMillean romance of adultery (not) isn’t vintage ’20s exotic, but set mainly in a succession of English drawing rooms and country gardens, it does end with everyone converging mid Sahara. Milestone, opens late 2005. J.H.

Three Times
[October 5 and 6]
Hou Hsiao-hsien presents the same romantic couple in a trio of historically charged situations—a Kaohsiung billiards parlor in 1966, a Dadaocheng brothel in 1911, and a Taipei rock club in 2005. Recapitulating something of his own development, the result is high middling Hou: His version of silent cinema is fascinating, not least because it plays to Shu Qi’s limited strengths as an actress, but the movie’s implicit themes of time travel, eternal recurrence, and the transmigration of souls are largely dissipated in the confusion of the final present-day section. No distributor. J.H.

Paradise Now
[October 5 and 6]
Contrived but chilling, Hany Abu-Assad’s second feature tells the tale of two Palestinian auto mechanics from Nablus whose suicide mission in Israel goes unexpectedly awry. The movie may not succeed in inspiring sympathy for these hapless terrorists, but it does compel an appreciation for their sense of desperate, bitter humiliation. Paradise Now is often didactic and takes a few too many narrative curves, but when these human time bombs go wandering off in their “wedding suits,” it packs a powerful existential wallop.
Warner Independent, opens October 28. J.H.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
[October 7 and 8]
Nothing if not unpredictable, Michael Winterbottom cracks the NYFF with this suitably eccentric adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s unfilmable masterpiece of 18th-century postmodernism. The movie is appropriately self-reflexive and compulsively digressive—although, made literal, many of Sterne’s japes cease to be funny. For all the on-set antics, appropriated Fellini music, inside baseball, and throwaway gags, the movie is most successful when Steve Coogan and his foil Rob Brydon are aimlessly riffing on the color of Brydon’s teeth (“How about Tuscan sunset?”) or trading Al Pacino imitations. Picturehouse, opens October 11. J.H.


[October 7 and 8]
Adapting Joseph Conrad’s short story “The Return” with the help of two superb actors, Patrice Chéreau reinvents the period chamber drama. The world caves in on a smug, wealthy publisher (Pascal Greggory) when his wife (Isabelle Huppert), in the course of an afternoon, leaves him for another man, then abruptly reverses her decision. Title notwithstanding, Gabrielle monitors the husband’s minutely shaded reaction to his spouse’s outbreak of passion—going from humiliation and bafflement to a terrified comprehension. Unfolding in crepuscular, sumptuously upholstered interiors, amid silently bustling servants and stiffly poised dinner guests (the cinematographer is the great Eric Gautier), this wildly stylized film is at once robust and ethereal, an existential ghost story with fresh blood pulsing through its veins. No distributor. D.L.

The Sun
photo: Film Society of Lincoln Center

The Sun
[October 8]
Aleksandr Sokurov brings his dictator trilogy to an unexpected conclusion with this intimate portrait of Emperor Hirohito at the moment where he has to surrender his divinity. Issey Ogata is on-screen throughout; twitchy and stuttering, he gives what could be the performance of the festival as the divine nerd—whether discussing the nature of the northern lights, examining his photo albums, or nibbling on a Hershey bar (a gift from Douglas MacArthur). When he emerges from his room, the emperor reminds the American G.I.’s of Charlie Chaplin; his nightmares seem to presage Godzilla. No distributor. J.H.

Caché (Hidden)
[October 9]
More muted in its nastiness than most Michael Haneke films, Hidden nevertheless reworks many of his favorite themes—video surveillance, childhood guilt, the family under siege. A smug TV personality (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife (an intense Juliette Binoche) are terrorized by a series of mysterious VHS tapes left on their doorstep. Haneke doesn’t resolve all the mysteries—this is an art thriller after all— but he effectively grounds a sense of personal menace in a larger historical framework. Sony Pictures Classics, opens December 23. J.H.

Also screening: Regular Lovers (September 24), Through the Forest (October 2), The Passenger (October 8).


Resurrecting an Unsung Horror Gem

It’s 1961, and Brit New Waver Jack Clayton makes a lavishly
appointed 20th Century Fox movie version of Henry James’s The Turn
of the Screw
, using a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote; it
garners a few mild salutes, does its business, and no one’s paid it
much mind since. But is it the finest, smartest, most visually savvy
horror film ever made by a big studio? Deborah Kerr is the sexually
straitjacketed governess subject to either the ghastly duplicity of her
dead-eyed charges (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) or the
threatening ghosts of the estate’s previous servants—or both—and it
might be the most unforgettable performance by a British actress in its
decade. Clayton’s filmmaking, mustering frisson by both candle and
blazing daylight, could serve as an object lesson in its genre. Only
Robert Wise’s The Haunting, out two years later, came close to
its edge-of-sight menace, repressed gothic angst, and all-suggestion
creep-outs. Fox is also releasing eight other seasonal, bargain-priced
library titles, including William Castle’s penny-wise carny show
House on Haunted Hill (1958) and the very odd, Robert
Bloch–written The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), a Rod Serling–era
remake of the German expressionist classic by way of cheap-modernist
decor and psychoanalytic disorientation. It’s something of an obscure
sister film to Carnival of Souls—a woman’s interiorized
dreamsong of aimlessness and persecution


Better Read Than Dead

Having long banished that certain someone I may/may not have been dating of late, I was spared the foul cliché of dumping him this Valentine’s Day. Better still, the gentleman in question thinks he dumped me. But no matter . . . Now I can snuggle up in my squalid (though cat-free) maisonette and fondle the pages of these classics, blissfully alone:

1 THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford (1915) This novel about two fabulously rich and beautiful Swinburne-quoting couples who meet, seduce, torture, and ultimately destroy one another—all in the name of love—opens thus: “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” From there it gets much, much worse. Or better, depending upon your temperament.

2 JUDE THE OBSCURE by Thomas Hardy (1895) A prophylactic for the academically ambitious, the too fecund, and anyone with a train fetish. I reread this almost every February.

3 BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S by Truman Capote (1958) If you only know the happified, Technicolor film version, you’re in for a large surprise. And best of all—unlike the movie—there’s no odious Mickey Rooney in Capote’s book.

4 ELECTIVE AFFINITIES by J.W. von Goethe (1809) Perhaps not the rollicking good fun of his The Sorrows of Young Werther, but really any novel about doomed intergenerational lovers, dead babies, and neoclassical landscape architecture is, de facto, heaven. Note to readers: Avoid open boats!

5 THE COUNTERFEITERS by André Gide (1926) Hey, Disney: Right up there with Musil’s Törless for its grim psychologizing, this tale of a schoolboy crush gone terribly wrong would make a super rock opera by Jim Steinman. Perhaps with marionettes.

Bonus texts

MUSIC FOR TORCHING by A.M. Homes, COCK & BULL by Will Self, A THOUSAND WAYS TO PLEASE A HUSBAND (WITH BETTINA’S BEST RECIPES) by Louise Bennett Weaver & Helen Cowles LeCron, FRISK by Dennis Cooper, MR. X by Peter Straub


Mirror, Mirror

“I’ve worked out a series of no’s,” Richard Avedon tells us. “No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative. And all these no’s force me to the ‘yes.’ I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.” Printed on the wall in the first gallery of Avedon’s portrait retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum, this text is a neat setup for the work that follows. Its brief litany of denial and affirmation sheds valuable light on the photographer’s process while leaving the exact nature of the portrait session itself—”the thing that happens between us”—in the dark.

Avedon is hardly reluctant to discuss his approach to portraiture. In a disarmingly revealing essay for the book that accompanies this show, he describes his sessions with Francis Bacon, Samuel Beckett, and Jorge Luis Borges in some detail, and scatters enough insights and dicta to inspire a college course: “Portraiture is performance”; “A confrontational, erotic quality . . . should underline all portraiture”; “The surface is all you’ve got. You can only get beyond the surface by working with the surface.” But what transpires between photographer and subject in that moment when the crucial picture is made remains a mystery. How could it be otherwise? What we see in Avedon’s portraits is the evidence of that exchange—sometimes a spark, sometimes a fire, sometimes an ice storm. In each instance, Avedon clearly hopes to get beyond the surface to what he calls “the thing itself, the real nature of the sitter,” but he never claims to have done so. He can only get as close as he dares or as close as he’s allowed.

The results—180 portraits made as early as 1947 and as recently as last June—are here for us to judge. But by what criteria? Do we expect revelation, intimacy, frisson, or merely spectacle? Entertainment, drama, or the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Avedon’s “series of no’s” seems to have been formulated largely to set his portraiture apart from his fashion work. No matter how rigorous or fraught a portrait session was, its formal austerity and standardized approach must have been a relief from the constant need for fresh, inventive, and graphically dazzling material for the pages of Bazaar and Vogue. So, aside from the artfully staged and larger-than-life tour de force featuring Andy Warhol and key members of his 1969 Factory posse, spectacle is in short supply here. Instead, Avedon captures subtler and more circumscribed performances: Marianne Moore’s pantomime of sensitivity, Oscar Levant’s demented cackle, Isak Dinesen’s bug-eyed glee, Michelangelo Antonioni’s brave grimace (softened considerably by the adoring gaze of his wife).

Avedon has talked about the last photo of his 1957 session with Marilyn Monroe, included here. After several hours of being flirtatiously, professionally “on,” the actress finally sat down in a corner and switched off. Though she was not unaware of being photographed, she allowed Avedon a glimpse of something sad, anxious, and terribly fragile: a star momentarily dimmed. Only a few of Avedon’s subjects have Monroe’s iconic zap, even in repose, but many of them are caught, like her, looking not at the camera but inward. Pinned before that stark white seamless, their self-consciousness hasn’t vanished, but the performance has wound down and they’ve lowered their guard enough to appear wistful or reflective or simply, frankly preoccupied. Avedon obviously waits for these moments and in some cases is rewarded with a fleeting view behind the public face: Truman Capote looks ready to drown in a wave of bitterness and melancholy.

These post-performance photos offer the tantalizing illusion of intimacy—the suggestion that we’re seeing what Monroe or Capote look like when they’re alone with themselves—but their success seems much more dependent on the fame of their subjects than Avedon’s other pictures here. (Muriel Rukeyser is seen in an equally unguarded moment, but who cares?) The most memorable pictures in the show take the performance full-force and head-on, turning people you’ve never heard of before into showstoppers. Avedon is a genius at getting from confrontation to collaboration and back; the emotional give-and-take that animates his best portraits suffuses them with a kind of pent-up energy. He doesn’t need this psychological current to make a visually arresting photo; he could probably do it in his sleep. (He demonstrates that here with 69 portraits of the American power elite, taken for a 1976 issue of Rolling Stone, that forgo emotional connection in favor of uninflected neutrality.) But when a connection is made, the results are riveting.

Take the picture of sculptor June Leaf that looms nine feet high at the end of one gallery. Her prettiness long faded, Leaf wraps her arms awkwardly around her torso and stares into the camera like a sister of Dorothea Lange’s valiant migrant mother. But her gaze is so soulful and loving that glamour is quite beside the point; she has the gravity and presence of a guardian angel. That presence—part bruised, part beatific—resurfaces in the following room with the series of portraits Avedon made in the American West. Though the women here are far more wary of Avedon’s camera, they share Leaf’s warmth and strength; unlike the men chosen to represent this series—nearly all of whom look long past defeat—they’re survivors. I bet these gals would hit it off with Doon Arbus, whose huge portrait in the next and last gallery is the most compelling of Avedon’s 2002 work. Arbus, Diane’s eldest daughter and a frequent collaborator of Avedon’s, is dressed and made up as if for a party, but she’s not happy. Her mouth set, her eyes cold, she’s magnificently malevolent—a fury who makes everyone else in the room look a little pathetic.

Like so many photographers, Avedon has talked about portraiture as self-portraiture. From the choice of subject to the choice of one frame out of many, these pictures mirror their maker: a sophisticated, opinionated man passionately engaged in the cultural, political, and intellectual life of his time. Avedon may not be what Cornell Capa had in mind when he praised the concerned photographer, but his attention to the zeitgeist has never been superficial. If nothing else, “Portraits,” shaped and edited with characteristic sensitivity and decisiveness by the Met’s Maria Morris Hambourg, should dispel any notion that Avedon is interested only in elegance, sensation, and pop ephemera. What other photographer would have made group shots of the Chicago Seven and the Mission Council in Vietnam, much less blown them up larger than life-size and set them on opposite walls? And made equally probing portraits of Dwight Eisenhower, Groucho Marx, Polly Mellen, William Burroughs, and In Cold Blood murderer Dick Hickock?

Though he rarely uses his pictures to indict his subjects, Avedon puts his enthusiasms on the line and invites us to share them. But he also wants us to make the same sort of human connection he’s made—to put aside our blasé detachment and get involved. He ends his essay in the catalog with a letter he wrote to his father. The elder Avedon was hurt when he saw his portrait, and his son explains: “You are angry and hungry and alive. What I value in you is your intensity. I want to make portraits as intense as people. I want your intensity to pass into me, go through the camera and become a recognition to a stranger.” Judged by his own tough criterion, Avedon succeeds.