Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Even more films

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Following the recent music film super entry, this time comes a more harmless one covering Capote, Brokeback Mountain and Transamerica.


Let me just say this: If the real Truman Capote was only half as annoying and vain and irritatingly voiced as Philip Seymour Hoffman plays him in the film Capote, people who hate him have my sympathy. This recording suggests that the film may be exaggerating the voice a little, but the tendency is still there.

While I had heard the name Capote before, I never read any of his books, so it was interesting to learn about that and his connection to Harper Lee. It amazed me how slow and deep the research for a report or book can be (and somehow I doubt we still see the same depth today).

In his research of the murder story for his book In Cold Blood he saw the crime scenes, the dead bodys and spoke to the murderers extensively. I am sure that was a very stressful thing to do. But what I found quite unsettling was the way Capote merged this research with the rest of his life.

Being ‘best friend’ of a death row inmate, listening to his problems and stories the one minute and returning to his public persona the moment he leaves the prison. Not being completely honest to the prisoners about his book is what I found disturbing. While he appeared to open up and be a friend of the prisoner, it became apparent that he was actually living in his safe cocoon of star-writer vanity. Perhaps we can’t have great books without this kind of behaviour, but it still seems ‘less than ideal’.

shot from the film with the print of a photo of capote and one of the murderers A tiny detail I noticed in the film was when they made photos with Capote and the prisoners and you get to see contact prints of those. The Film says ‘APX 400’ on the side (which isn’t exactly readable in the trailer). As far as I’ve been told Agfa’s APX fils are considered to be quite ‘modern’ – which makes it seem unlikely that it has been used in the 1960s.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Brokeback Mountain

Everybody has been talking about Brokeback Mountain a lot in the past. But the film only made it to Germany recently. Reading all the commentary was quite amusing, with people in the U.S. apparently having started to use ‘Brokeback’ as an adjective instead of saying ‘gay’. Quite an achievement for a film.

So it’s the ‘gay western’. An unexpected mix of genres I’d say. Offering a view on hinterland America half a century ago. A time and place where cattle lived on the hills and being gay could get people killed on the roadside. That’s quite hard to imagine from today’s view when cattle goes straight from the factory to the freezer and gay people are all over the the public and in the media. ‘Progress’, I suppose.

So back then in old-time America, those two cowboys fall in love. Or not. It’s not quite clear to them and they initially completely deny it. Instead they move on and see that they get some marriages and kids to ruin. And in the end it looks like everybody in the game may actually have sorted out their own position but by then, they’ve mostly wasted or ruined their lives. It’s quite tragic once you start thinking about it.

And that would lead to my main critique of the film. The whole tragedy of it is easily covered by the smaller problems with cold people in them (like Jacks’ wife or parents). And it is drowned by the film’s great length. Ang Lee and slow countryside pans hooray. But this whole film just seemed to drag on too slowly for me. Crossing the ninety minute sweet-spot for films and even surpassing the two hour limit. I don’t think there was enough to tell for that.

And two more things: I don’t like westerns and haven’t watched many. In fact, Marlboro ads have probably shaped my view of the genre more than anything else. And thus, from my point of view, this doesn’t qualify as a Western. In a western the landscape is wide and red and there are cows. In Brokeback Mountain the landscape is hilly and green and there are sheep. So, err, cowboys? sheepboys? Ah, there we’ve finally got something that actually sounds quite gay in the derogative sense…

Finally there’s the issue of the age rating. This is a bit of a pet curiosity of mine. Look at a film with some potentially controversial topics in it and then scroll down to the age certification at IMDB to see interesting regional differences. This film manages to score the entire spectrum of ratings from Free for all in France to 7+ in Sweden to 11/12 (Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Norway, Japan, Germany, …) to 13/14 (Spain, Chile, Switzerland) to 15/16 (UK, Argentinia, South Korea) to 18 (Poland, U.S. [R]) to 21 (Singapore) to banned (Malaysia).

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]


So if gay is the new mainstream you’ll have to top that. And thus transsexual may be the new gay. Transamerica tells the story of Bree who wants to have a sex change but learns that (s)he has a son, Toby, who is in jail. Her counsellor tells her to meet him before (s)he can have the final operation. That’s full of potential drama of its own but it’s just the beginning of many difficulties. In the end both of them are on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles and learn about their respective lives.

And their lives aren’t brilliant. Just the sheer background they are from – if Bree’s story from a rich family who say we love you – but we don’t respect you and moving on to wanting a sex change doesn’t sound too cheerful, it’s still better than Toby’s. His mum killed herself, his stepfather raped him and he ended up selling himself for money in New York. He’d love to know his dad whom he wants to be half Indian while aspiring to become a gay porn star in Los Angeles.

So things aren’t going well, but both of them just deal with them. There may be confusion, anger and tears but they manage to try and make the most of it. Which I thought was impressive. Despite all the terribly hard things in their lives, they still don’t lose track and go on. Great.

And Felicity Huffman rightly deserved prizes for her role in the film. I imagine it’s quite tricky to learn that extra but of clumsiness that’s associated with men acting as women. And she is very convincing at that.

Great film title btw!

Bree and Toby in the car

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

April 25, 2006, 0:55

Tagged as ang lee, brokeback mountain, capote, film, philip seymour hoffman, transamerica, truman capote.

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