“OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS”–Capote’s first novel

“Other Voices, Other Rooms’

Capote’s First Novel

Amos Lassen

When the film of Truman Capote’s first novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms, came out in 1995, it was considered to be very radical. It is the story of the bridge between two cultures. In the spirit of Capote’s Alabama, the film was filmed in the Deep South and reflects the beauty and the idiosyncrasies of the region. This was the book that gave Capote fame, even before “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and he ever again was able to write again the way he did then. He was much too busy becoming a celebrity. Once he had tasted fame, Capote was more intent on being famous than having a reason to be so. It really wasn’t until his great novel “In Cold Blood” that his fame was justified. Yet he made a wonderful dive into the literary world with “Other Voices, Other Rooms”.

The story he tells, both in the book and in the film adaptation is as if an old folk song became a gorgeous operatic aria. It is perfect ad its beauty was never repeated. The way it melded differentiation and alienation of the exotic and the elegant gave new definitions to the words.

The homosexuality in “Other Voices, Other Rooms” is covert but it is there. At the time the film was being made could not yet bring such material to mass audiences and because its a major theme of the book and could not be seen in the film, the result is ultimately hurt and if you have read the novel, you realize how missing the subject is.

The name Capote has come to signify that there will be something strange, something unclear. If there is a young man in the story, it is safe to assume that whatever happens is going to happen to him. Because of that, it is very difficult to adapt any of the Capote’s opus for the screen. The storyline must not be offensive to the audience. But this was before the rise of the new gay cinema. If the same movie were to be made today, I am willing to bet that it would be much different.

The screenplay of the film is beautiful as is the cinematography. In dealing with an issue of child molestation as does the novel upon what the movie is based, certain guidelines had to be adhered to. There did not have to be a scene on film of what happened but the implication could have been talked about. It wasn’t and this hurt the film greatly. This does not mean that the film is not good. It is wonderful but it is more wonderful if you read the book both before and after viewing the movie.

The movie has the feel that it was made exclusively for the small screen, for television. It is one of those typically Southern gothic dramas and it is set in the 1930’s when the legends of the South were, for lack of a better word, legendary. A young man is in search of his father who is known to be ailing. The ill father is being cared for by two eccentric cousins played by Anne Thompson and the very good looking and outrageous, Lothaire Bluteau (star of “Jesus of Montreal” and “Bent” and a fine character actor who gives a “tour de force” performance). The character lives somewhat in the past depending on “the kindness of strangers” and it is his performance that makes this movieorthwhile.

A movie made of a book that has layered subplots is a special challenge and is hard to transfer to film and I can only wonder why the film was even attempted. But since the film was made, we can be thankful for what we have. Sensible coming of age films are challenging and difficult to make because of the emotions involved in reaching manhood. Using a classic novel as basis is even more difficult. The novel is one of the best ever to deal with gay coming of age and that is the issue that is subverted in the film. There is really nothing gay about the movie, except by very, very shy allusion and then only if you know to look for it. One critic called it a “mellow drama”. I have to disagree. It is a melodrama, yes, but it is beautiful to watch and Bluteau is mesmerizing. Sure the book is better but if the movie makes you want to read Capote, then it  has done something worthwhile. In the meantime, you can luxuriate and see a film that captures the south and has a wonderful performance by an actor who has been much underrated.

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