- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (30/4/2021)
(Reviews of Labyrinth of Cinema; The Last Photograph; The Reckoning; The Banishing; and Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation)
Despite the relaxation of the odd outdoor restriction, we remain in Lockdown 3 for a few more weeks. This means that cinemas across the UK will stay still closed and all new releases stay online until 17 May at the earliest. So, in addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, you should also be able to access the titles under discussion below via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
Stay safe and make the most of the dwindling days of the streaming bonanza, as it will almost certainly disappear the moment the distributors can reimpose the myth that movies can only be fully appreciated on a giant cinema screen in restoring the restrictive practices that makes them tons more dough when everyone watching has to buy their own ticket.
LABYRINTH OF CINEMA.
Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi passed away at the age of 82 on 10 April 2020, shortly before the release of his final feature. Despite Labyrinth of Cinema ending a career that began with the 8mm shorts made by an eager eight year-old and passed through phases of experimentation and populism, Obayashi will always be best remembered for his trippy supernatural debut, House (1977), which is one of his few features available on disc in the UK. But he has left us with plenty to ponder in a feature set during the Second World War, which is currently showing on MUBI.
Floating above Earth in a spaceship full of fish, Fanta G (Yukihiro Takahashi) explains that films are like time machines and he takes us to the port town of Onomichi, where the Setouchi Kinema is going to close after an all-night programme of famous Japanese war movies. In addition to 13 year-old island girl Noriko Habara (Rai Yoshida), the patrons also include film buff Mario Baba (Takuro Atsuki), aspiring historian Hosuke Oturi (Takahito Hosoyamada) and wannabe yakuza, Shigeru (Yosihiko Hosoda).
As a typhoon arrives early, however, the auditorium fills up as the blind owner (Kayoko Shiraishi) sells tickets and the projectionist (Nenji Kobayashi) loads the first reel. Noriko walks up a side aisle singing and someone notes that live music used to be part of silent shows, as the teenager and two male dancers step out from the stage into the heart of the projected film. Their song-and-dance number continues (with the action periodically being framed by circular iris masks) from the Togukawa period to the day of Pearl Harbor and Fanta points out what war seems to find its way into every Japanese film around this time.
Mario, Hosuke and Shigeru also find themselves participating in the action during the Toba-Fushimi Battle during the 1868 overthrow of the Shogunate. They are baffled why they are in black and white and need intertitles in order to speak, as they find themselves witnesses to the murder of samurai Shintaro Nakaoka (Tokio Emoto) and Ryoma Sakamoto (Tetsuya Takeda) and their leader, Saigo Takamori (Takehiro Murata), commit hara-kiri, Norkio wanders into the scene and master swordsman Captain Isami Kondo (Toshinori Omi) entrusts her to the three movie geeks cowering in the corner of the room.
The friends are baffled to see Sakamoto and Saigo eating sweets in the company of statesman Okubo Toshimichi (Goro Inagaki), who was assassinated in 1878. But Fanta interjects to remind them that history is chaotic and the trio fetch up in the Sino-Japanese War, where Noriko has placed her trust in Lieutenant Makoto Sako (Tadanobu Asano). As the audience in the cinema sings along to a sentimental hometown ballad, Mario turns into Tarzan to swing on a vine and rescure Noriko. He also makes the acquaintance of a pioneering animator (whose character is called Mr Muddlehead) and likes to think he saw John Ford making a documentary on Japanese soil.
However, Noriko is killed by the Eighth Route Army and Sako refuses to let Mario grieve, as he whisks them on to the nearby headquarters, where Chinese spy Yoshiko Kawashima (Ayumi Ito) is killing two senior Japanese officers. As the enemy snipes, Mario is reunited with Noriko against a huge orange sun and Sako is killed. Shigeru challenges the ageing swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi (Toru Shinagawa). and decapitates him before a caption proclaims that Japan defeated Russia in war in 1905.
Following an earlier reference to Frank Capra, we see Yasujiro Ozu lamenting being sent to the Philippines to make a propaganda film to Sadao Yamanaka, who curses the fact that he never got to make another film after Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937). We learn that Ozu nicknamed himself `The Tofu Maker' because he produced domestic dramas reflecting postwar life.
Back in June 1945, Mario, Hosuke and Shigeru wash up on a remote island and train with handcarts to practice resisting American tanks. They are also given ballet lessons by Kawamura, a stage actor who has missed out on the opportunity to go to Hiroshima for a production of The Rickshaw Man. Following an intermission, the action resumes with Shigeru going to the nearby brothel, where he falls in love with the sister of a girl who resembles Noriko. He begs her to run away with him, but she couldn't let the family debt fall on her sibling and, having lost her virginity with Shigeru, she kills herself by biting into her tongue.
A woman film journalist arrives at the cinema and provides the narration for a film about Nakano Takeko and her Joshitai band of Aizu female warriors, who fought with the revolutionaries in the Boshin War against the Shogunate. Shigeru also tries to intervene to prevent the juvenile White Tiger unit from being wiped out during an attack on a heavily fortified castle. As the friends try to escape from this latest skirmish, Hosuke draws a sword to protect Shigeru and he and his precious notebook are covered in blood.
The journalist describes how some schoolgirls defended a piano at their school from soldiers intent on destroying it because it had been used to play Chopin. We also see a soldier (played by Hosuke) refuse to bayonet a captured Chinese soldier and so enrage his commanding officer that he kills his female translator with a grenade.
To discover the identity of the pacifist trooper, we descend on Okinawa in 1925, where Kaya Nakama and Shoei Iraha take the first steps on the path to love. They roll on the sand in a From Here to Eternity moment when he proposes. But, in 1944, he receives the red paper that means he has been called up to fight the losing battle in the Pacific War.
In resisting the sadistic sergeant, Shoei befriends fellow Okinawan Kameji Kinjo (Shinnosuke Mitsushima). However, we learn that the Japanese killed over 800 Okinawans in reprisal for being outsiders uncommitted to the imperial cause and, having deserted, Shoei returns to his village to find his family dead and see Kaya breathe her last after being raped by her killer.
Still in uniform on 1 August, Mario, Hosuke and Shigeru find themselves on a train heading for Hiroshima. So far, they have managed to resist orders to commit atrocities by protesting that they are merely members of the audience. However, they know the atomic bomb is going to be dropped in five days time and offer to replace missing member of the Sakura Troupe run by the ailing Sadao Maruyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka) to prevent them from being in the doomed city on the fateful day. Shigeru auditions for a part in The White Tiger Brigade and they are glad that they can spare these people from the fate of those like a mother dandling her baby on the train.
On 6 August, the troupe goes to a shelter during a rehearsal and Mario reels off facts about film versions of The Rickshaw Man. Maruyama laments that, in wartime, the Japanese always opt for conformity over logic. When a soldier comes to stop the show because the play is unpatriotic, Fanta informs us that the 1943 film version, which saw Hiroshi Inagaki direct Tsumasaburo Bando, had 10 minutes edited out by the imperial censor because a widow couldn't marry a rickshaw driver, while the occupying powers cut another eight minutes after the war.
The cancellation of the performance costs the lives of the actors, including Keiko Sonoi, Ayako Morishita, Ayako Ryu, Tsuyako Shimaki, Kayo Komuro, Shozo Takayama, Midori Naka and Kyoko Habara. although the latter entrusted her niece, Noriko, to the three friends, who see her off on the train. However, she returns and is standing near the Hiroshima Prefectural Products Exhibition Hall when Enola Gay passes over with `Little Boy' at 8:15am.
As Fanta leaves the cinema for the last time, he explains how Japan has always lied to its people about war and used film to peddle falsehoods. He now hopes that the younger generation will see through such propaganda and derive only true and optimistic messages from the screen. At closing time, the blind owner reveals that she is Noriko and hopes that everyone enjoyed the night and learnt its lessons. Over the captions, we hear the song made popular after the war by comedian Kenichi `Enoken' Enomato and a voice (possibly Obayashi's) anticipates a time when no one will know the misery of war and we see an animated sequence of a baby floating through space as the planets align.
Replete with memorable moments, several of which have been achieved through charmingly cut-price chroma key effects, this is a remarkable swan song for an octogenarian who had been told four years earlier that his cancer diagnosis was so serious that he only had three months left to live. Obayashi has been ruminating about war ever since Akira Kurosawa told him in the 1990s, `Wars can start right away, but it takes 400 years to make peace.' The trilogy comprised of Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012), Seven Weeks (2015) and Hanagatami (2017) approach the subject with an insight that make it the modern equivalent of Masaki Kobayashi's epic triptych, The Human Condition (1956-58). But Labyrinth of Cinema also makes a devastating impact.
Frustratingly, it exposes how little we know about Obayashi's oeuvre and how difficult it is for cinéastes on limited budgets to have access to subtitled DVDs from around the world because of the way films are distributed, if they even make it to disc at all. Music is much more readily available, thanks to CDs and downloads and it's to be hoped that lessons have been learned during the pandemic about putting more thought and effort into reaching potential audiences rather than raking in cash (hah, some hope!).
The film will also reveal the ignorance of many viewers about Japanese military and cinematic history. There's nothing worse than trying to follow a film that keeps pointing out how ignorant and insular you are. But, while it's possible to enjoy the experience without being able to read between the lines, it would be greatly enhanced by a few footnotes about features like Keisuke Kinoshita's Army (1944) to provide some context for the non-aficionado.
The fact that the action is set in Obayashi's rain-soaked hometown of Onomichi leads one to suspect that there may well be an autobiographical element to sequences that shift between monochrome and colour, realism and stylisation, and back projections and animation. At the heart of everything (much of which is played on stalks by the committed cast) is the way that Japanese film-makers have depicted conflict, although only those in the know will be able to detect which pictures are being referenced and why. They will also get the cultural and satirical allusions that feel worthy of Jean-Luc Godard at his most playful and self-reflexively scattershot.
Yet, for all the whimsicality of Takeuchi Koichi's production design and the punishing precision of Obayashi's livewire editing (the use of scroll-down scene transitions is ingeniously effective), the message behind Hisaki Sanbongi's glorious images and the quotations from the Dadaist poetry of Chuya Nakahara couldn't be more grave. It's regretably ironic that the comments on barbarisation and the dark clouds gathering behind humanity are addressed to the young, as they may not be entirely au fait with the films and incidents being referred to. But, such is the ambition and sincerity of this three-hour opus that Obayashi can be forgiven the odd platitude and lapse into self-indulgence.
THE LAST PHOTOGRAPH.
Tom Hammond (Danny Huston) runs a bookshop opposite the Chelsea café owned by Hannah (Sarita Choudhury). When a couple of young women (Jaime Winstone and Immy Waterhouse) steal his briefcase from under his desk, Tom becomes obsessed with tracking them down and recovering the last photograph he had taken with his son, Luke (Jonah Hauer-King), who had perished aboard Pan Am Flight 103 at Lockerbie in 1988.
As Luke was going to spend Christmas in New York with his girlfriend, Kate (Stacy Martin), Tom imagines scenes from their romance, while becoming increasingly erratic, much to the concern of Hannah and his best mate, Mark (Vincent Regan). Flashbacks show Tom driving to Scotland on the night of the crash, expecting to give his son the sweater he had bought for him. He ends up mailing this to Kate after she had sent him her condolences and blamed herself for inviting him to America.
Hannah provides Tom with white wine and a sympathetic ear and they grow closer. One day, Tom sees a father and son discussing buried treasure on the Embankment and he finds the briefcase on the sand. He shows the faded Polaroid to Hannah and kisses her hand. On Luke's birthday, he meets Kate (whom Luke had nicknamed Bird) at the Lockerbie memorial and finally feels ready to move on after 15 years.
Speckled with poignant details, but never quite ringing true, Danny Huston's first directorial outing since The Maddening (1995) is more an exercise in style than a treatise on grief. At several points in a four year-old film that feels cynically slipped out in the dwindling days of lockdown, Huston and editor Francisco Forbes compile montages that use Ed Rutherford's imagery and Jamie McPhee's sound design to convey Tom's confusion and despair. But, even though Huston's acting is as restrained as Peter Raeburn's score, the sequences feel strainedly mannered.
The subplots involving Hannah and Mark also feel as tagged on as the flashbacks depicting scenes that Tom could never have seen. However, the implausibility is rather built into Simon Astaire's adaptation of his own novel, as the monochrome opening scene has father and son having what appears to be their first conversation about Luke relationship with Kate in the car on the way to the airport.
There also seems to be no reason why Tom would be so hostile to Hannah a decade and a half after the tragedy and, presumably, several years since they had first met, because he had promised Luke en route to Heathrow that he would junk his job in the City and fulfil a dream by owning a bookshop. The moment in which Tom swears at the Christ in an altar painting for deserting him feels equally far-fetched, in comparison with the quiet moment of anguish when he sits alone in Luke's bedroom after returning home on 22 December.
When Joseph Haverstock (Joe Anderson) hangs himself after contracting plague in 1665, he is buried in a downpour by his widow, Grace (Charlotte Kirk). Facing eviction by Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington) unless she can pay the rent, Grace leaves her infant daughter, Abigail, with her friend, Kate (Sarah Lambie), and her husband, Morton (Leon Ockenden) and tries to borrow money from the tavern landlord, Sutter (Bill Fellows), He refuses to help her, but plants the suspicion that Pendleton caused Joseph's infection.
Although the squire accepts wedding rings in lieu of rent, he vows vengeance after Grace spurns his alternative payment proposal and burns him with the poker. The townsfolk readily rally behind a dropped hint of witchcraft at the inn and Morton leads the mob that torches her cottage and deposits her in a dungeon alongside falsely accused food thief Astrid (Indiana Ryan) and the deranged Reverend Malcolm (Rick Warden).
On the first day of her persecution, Grace is whipped in the square before being brought before Witchfinder John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee), who had condemned her mother, Jane (Emma Campbell-Jones), when she was a child. He travels with the burn-scarred Ursula (Suzanne Magowan), who once survived the pyre and now mercilessly slays a grieving husband whose wife Moorcroft had burned. Although he realises that Pendleton has accused Grace because she snubbed him, Moorcroft promises to extract a confession and quickly finds what he insists is the Devil's mark on her neck.
That night, Grace has a nightmare in which Satan (Ian Whyte) ravishes her and he returns the next night, along with visitations from Joseph and Jane. Ursula also comes to the cell to urge Grace to confess for the sake of her daughter, but she knows from gaoler's assistant Edwin (Callum Goulden) that she is being held in the castle tower. He agrees to help her escape, but first she has to endure torture with a Pear of Anguish.
Getting word to the self-flagellating Moorcroft that she is ready to confess, Grace is given a luxurious gown and gets to cradle Abigail before Ursula takes her away. However, she has arranged for pestilence to be slipped into Moorcroft's wine and uses some of his tools to pin his hands to the table. While he struggles to get free, Edwin fetches the baby and takes her to Kate (who has just killed Morton by crushing his skull with a cartwheel), while Grace beheads the squire after seeing Ursula catch light and plunge from a high window and leaving Moorcroft to Lucifer.
A closing caption reveals that 500,000 women were put to death for witchcraft in Europe and North America, with the last being Janet Horne, who was tarred and immolated in 1727. Director Neil Marshall and co-writers Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell rightly denounce this persecution of innocent women and the abuse of civil and religious power that this represented. Yet, they struggle to place the allegorical references to today's toxic masculinity into the historical context that has been so proficiently created on Hungarian location by production designer Ian Bailie and art director Vanessa O'Connor, who certainly seem to know their 17th-century instruments of torture.
That said, they and cinematographer Luke Bryant use enough candles in the Haverstock hovel to light up Westminster Abbey. Moreover, the decision to have Grace don a sumptuous Mária Fatér gown for her climactic meeting with Moorcroft reinforces the picture's snigger-inducing insistence on making Charlotte Kirk look glamorous whether she's doing domestic chores, burying her spouse, being strapped on to a rack or being ravaged by the Horned One. Who knew suspected witches wore so much blusher?
Despite championing the cause of female empowerment, Kirk's performance is highly unconvincing throughout, although Maxine Peake's similarly struggled to hit the right period note in Thomas Clay's superior, but still frustratingly melodramatic Fanny Lye Deliver'd (2019). Marshall's influences are clearly Michael Reeve's Witchfinder General (1968) and Michael Armstrong's Mark of the Devil (1970) and Sean Pertwee does a decent job of following in the footsteps of Vincent Price and Udo Kier. He is also ably supported by Suzanne Magowan, as the pyre survivor-turned-torturer's accomplice. But the acting mostly follows the cue given by Christopher Drake's bombastic score and the clumsily integrated fantasy sequences.
Slick and timely in its depiction of a plague-stricken society, but thematically superficial, despite Marshall's well-intentioned bid to show that his off-screen partner has emerged from her own Hollywood witch-hunt unscathed.
At the height of the Munich Crisis, Linus Forster (John Heffernan) takes up a country parish at the behest of Bishop Malachi (John Lynch). He is joined by new bride Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her young daughter, Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce). Church attendance is low, as the locals are still spooked by the fact that the previous incumbent murdered his wife in Morley Rectory, which has lain empty for three years. Occultist Harry Reed (Sean Harris) is convinced the house is haunted, but his case is scarcely helped by his alcohol-fuelled eccentricities.
When Adelaide claims to have seen and heard things during the night, Marianne takes her to Dr Sutter (Jason Thorpe), who had been persuaded by Malachi to cover up the rectory murder. He urges her to leave, while the deaf housekeeper, Betsy (Jean St Clair), is also nervous about the child's safety, especially after she is frightened by a cinema newsreel depicting a Nazi rally. Linus is more concerned by the fact that Marianne has contributed to a collection for the Spanish Civil War, as he is convinced his wife will abandon him because he believes intercourse to be sinful unless it's for the express purpose of procreation.
Malachi is unhappy that Marianne has spoken to Harry and has him beaten after he claims that the bishop is in cahoots with the Nazi hierarchy and has been entrusted with a sinister mission. He persists in seeing Marianne, however, and warns her that the house will feed upon the lie that Adelaide is her sister's daughter. She is scared by the revelation that the property has the power to turn its occupants against each other and returns to have an uncomfortable encounter with Linus, who has just seen a supernatural vision of his cuckolding.
Following the Sunday service, Malachi takes Marianne to one side to reveal that he knows about her being incarcerated in an asylum after giving her baby away and informs her that he pulled strings to bring about a reunion. Moreover, he also arranged for her to meet and marry Linus and cautions her that she will lose everything if she defies him and leaves Morley. Already on edge, Marianne is hurt by the fact that Adelaide keeps claiming to have had conversations with her real mother and, with Linus too drunk to care, she turns to Harry for assistance after she witnesses her child step into a mirror and wave goodbye.
Harry reaches the house to discover that Betsy has been murdered and he explains to Marianne that Morley was built on the ruins of a demolished monastery. He also reveals that Adelaide has been abducted by the spirit of a woman who had been abused by the monks who had killed her after she had realised she was pregnant. Marianne agrees to confront her demons and steps into the netherworld in which the spectral monks try to prevent her from reaching Adelaide and her captor. She promises to ensure that the woman and her child are given a Christian burial and Harry joins the Forsters at the graveside. During the night, however, Malachi exhumes the bones and delivers them to some Nazi necromancers in Stuttgart.
Once branded `the most haunted house in England' by psychic researcher Harry Price, the rectory in the Essex parish of Borley had already inspired such recent outings as Stephen McKendree's The Poltergeist of Borley Hall (2013), Ashley Thorpe's Borley Rectory (2017), and Steven M. Smith's The Haunting of Borley Rectory (2018) and The Ghosts of Borley Rectory (2021) before Christopher Smith decided to make his own visit. Apart from a few jolts and some business with a magic mirror, however, this effort scripted by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines is more of a gothic melodrama than a haunting horror and follows Black Death (2010), Get Santa (2014) and Detour (2016) in suggesting that Smith is still a long way off the form that saw him launch his career with Creep (2004), Severance (2006) and Triangle (2009).
Chris Richmond's production design and Ben Baird's sound mix are as assured as Sarah Cunningham's prowling camerawork. But the characterisation is far too thin for audiences to invest much emotional capital in Marianne and her family's plight. Malachi seems to know more about her than she does herself, but even he doesn't satisfactorily explain why she would want to marry a drip like Linus, whose piety is his sole redeeming feature and Smith and his scribes turn this against him when he proves to have feet of clay. John Heffernan plays the part well enough, but he's crowded out of shots focussing on either Jessica Brown Findlay's supposedly headstrong heroine, Sean Kelly's red-haired table-tapper or John Lynch's fascistic prelate.
Streaming on the Shudder platform, this is likely to attract a respectable audience and shows that not every possessed property picture has to be as relentlessly oppressive or innovatively shocking as Rose Glass's Saint Maud (2019) or Remi Weiss's His House (2020). But, with only the gimmicky mirror images, doppelgänger two-shots and hints of hooded menace to raise the pulse rate, it could just as easily fill the Downton Abbey slot on ITV on a Sunday evening. Oh, hang on, it's already occupied by Alex Pillai's Harry Price: Ghost Hunter (2015), with Rafe Spall.
TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION.
Coming so soon after Ebs Burnough's The Capote Tapes, Lisa Immordino Vreeland's Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation feels a little like a glorified DVD extra. This is a shame, as the friendship between Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote has its own intrinsic fascination. Yet, despite the decision to allow these erudite writers tell the story on their own words, this never feels as revealing or involving as Vreeland's previous outings, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011), Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015) or Love, Cecil (2017), which profiled photographer and Oscar-winning designer Cecil Beaton.
People tend to know Capote from the screen rather than the page, with their familiarity with his life and work coming from chat show clips and the impersonations of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005) and Toby Jones in Infamous (2006). By contrast, Tennessee Williams is less familiar, as he has never been the subject of a biopic, while Paul Budline's Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius (1998) is the stand-alone actuality. The problem facing Vreeland, therefore, is how to strike a balance between the pair when one is much more of a conventional celebrity than the other, even though his literary achievement was considerably greater.
Williams was one of the titans of the American stage in the middle of the last century, with The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1950), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Baby Doll (1957), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) all being hailed as masterpieces. Capote also had his successes, with Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), Breakfast At Tiffany's (1958) and In Cold Blood (1966). But he was markedly more comfortable in the spotlight than Williams and derived a great deal more pleasure from the social whirl to which his fame had secured him admittance. You only have to compare them in the company of chat show hosts like David Frost and Dick Cavett to see how differently they approached the duty to be witty and frank on the airwaves.
It was, perhaps, almost inevitable that their relationship would have its squalls and Immordino Vreeland selects judiciously from a range of sources, including letters, magazines and notebooks, to provide intimate insights into the jealousies that caused these fluctuations in fondness. They are read with panache by Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons, who were recently seen together in Joe Mantello's 2020 remake of William Friedkin's 1970 adaptation of Mart Crowley's 1968 play, The Boys in the Band. Unfortunately, while Quinto is able to supply an approximation of Williams's Mississippian burr, Capote's voice is too distinctive for Parsons to get away with such an imprecise impersonation. Consequently, it often seems distracting to hear Capote's acid drops being delivered in the cadence of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.
Much more compelling are the interview extracts, which not only shed light on the contrasting personalities of Williams and Capote, but which also remind us of how debased the chat show format has become since promotion took precedence over probing. Both writers are forced to pause and weigh up their responses when asked about their literary legacy and their place in America's rapidly changing socio-cultural scene. Amusing anecdotes still abound, alongside such cutting remarks as Capote's assertion that `Tennessee is not intelligent.' But there is also an acute journalistic curiosity and intellectual depth to the encounters with such masters of the craft as Frost and Cavett, who also showed to excellent effect in Raoul Peck's James Baldwin profile, I Am Not Your Negro (2016).
Editor Bernadine Colish ably abets Vreeland's bid to show how similar the men were in seeking to use their writing to overcome an awareness of having disappointed their respective fathers. However, both Williams and Capote ended up dismaying themselves, with the former enduring a critical backlash after his hot streak and the latter alienating the dolce vita denizens who had attended his 1966 Black and White Ball by poisonously lampooning them in his unfinished roman à clef, Answered Prayers. The pair also lived dual lives away from the glare, with Williams enjoying a 14-year romance with wartime sailor Frank Merlo and Capote spending the last four decades of his life with fellow author, Jack Dunphy.
Yet, for all the polish of Vreeland's approach, Capote and Williams evade her grasp. Perhaps she needed the space and time that a mini-series might have afforded to discuss the men individually before showing how their paths intersected. Under Frost's interrogation, Capote confides that he doesn't believe that sex has anything to do with friendship, while Williams reveals that he has `never lived without feeling love'. But neither gives much away, with Capote being more forthcoming about his alcohol addiction than his emotional life. Nevertheless, Williams does confess to disliking himself and boldly avers that society rapes the individual when being asked why so many women are assaulted in his plays.
The pick of the reminiscences, however, describes how Capote and Gore Vidal were foiled in their bid to break into Williams's Manhattan apartment by a female cop they declared to be part of the `Bo Peep Squad'. However, the story serves to remind us how much better Vidal has been served than the troubled twosome in such documentaries as John-Paul Davidson's Gore Vidal's Gore Vidal (1995), Deborah Dickson's The Education of Gore Vidal (2003), Nicholas D. Wrathall's The United States of Amnesia (2013), and Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's Best of Enemies (2015), which focuses on his rivalry with William F. Buckley, Jr.