You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Degrees of Self


(Warner Independent)



At last we have a sure way to see if the spirit world really exists.If we tilt upward and hear high-pitched glee, then we know it does,because what we are hearing is Truman Capote. Two films have beenmade about him, and both are released within about a year. Nomatter how greedy he was for attention, both serious andsuperficial, he could never have foreseen this bonanza. Listen:giggles seem to tinkle from the clouds.

The new film is called Infamous. Douglas McGrath, who at one timewrote for this magazine, derived the screenplay from GeorgePlimpton's sound-bite biography. (Capote was based on GeraldClarke's biography.) The story of TC 2 is inevitably much the sameas that of TC 1: Capote reads of the quadruple murders in Kansasand embarks on the assignment that leads to In Cold Blood, withKansas squareness and Manhattan chic interwoven along the way.McGrath, who made Emma, also directed--fluently--and cast hispicture acutely, with Toby Jones as Capote, Daniel Craig as PerrySmith (the more shadowed of the two killers), and Sandra Bullock asHarper Lee. The bevy of New York socialites with whom Capote buzzedto prove that he had made good--Sigourney Weaver, Juliet Stevenson,and Isabella Rossellini among them--are certainly buzzable with.

Possibly because of these women, McGrath says that he considers hisfilm to be lighter in tone than TC 1, which is baffling. Thereverse seems the case. McGrath summons much deeper emotion inCapote's visits to Perry's cell, and he gets more disgust out ofthe eventual hangings. (The earlier film sent William Shawn, theNew Yorker editor, with Capote to the executions; this film sendsCapote's publisher Bennett Cerf, inappropriately played by PeterBogdanovich. In fact it was neither of these men: Capote wasaccompanied by his editor at Random House, Joe Fox.) Jones, who hasthe advantage of being small, is no more subtle or intelligent thanPhilip Seymour Hoffman was, and though Bullock is pleasant asHarper Lee, Catherine Keener seemed more believable as a writer.

But two extrinsic factors shove aside analysis of the film. First,the simultaneity. The producers of TC 2 knew that TC 1 was inprocess. Why did they go ahead anyway? Did they believe that animmense Capote audience was hungering for two films about him? Howwere the actors in TC 2 affected by the knowledge that another castwas working on the same characters? In 1936 two Broadwayproductions of Hamlet were prepared simultaneously, and there waschat about the espionage of one on the other. But that doublenesswas fascinating, not redundant, because of the subject. Not quitethe case here.

Second is the matter that bothered me, apart from the overratedprose, when I reviewed Capote's book forty years ago--and againwhen TC 1 came along. Capote's self. The title In Cold Blood hasmore than one meaning for me. Capote waited five years after hefinished the bulk of his book because it couldn't be concludeduntil the convicts' appeals were exhausted and they were sentencedeither to life or to death. During that five-year wait, Capote saidto a friend about his book, "But it can't be published untilthey're executed, so I can hardly wait." If that was only a cynicaljoke, it is even worse. The murderers were executed in April 1965;In Cold Blood was published early in 1966 with tremendous success.In November of that year, with Katharine Graham as his ostensiblehonoree, Capote celebrated his success with an extravagant costumeball at the Plaza Hotel.

Somehow, that last item fits.

A Turkish film called Climates confirms that two matters, oncethought to be limited to certain parts of the world, are nowinternational. The first of these matters is parochial tofilm--cinematography. Nowadays, in most film- making countries,cinematography is at such a high level that in a way we are gettingspoiled--we simply expect it to be fine. (The improvement lessensour enjoyment of many once-hallowed films of the past.) GokhanTiryaki, who shot Climates, tells us from the first moment that,whatever else may be true thereafter, this film is going to be atreat for the eye. We soon see that the point is not pictorialbeauty, although it is always before us. Tiryaki photographs thetheme, not just persons and places.

The second global element is that theme. It is no longer social newsthat a certain separation from joy--a lack of reliance on mattersthat might bring forth joy--is now endemic in much of the world.This malaise of self did not originate with World War II, but ithas certainly expanded since 1945, notably in literature, theater,and film. (I haven't read the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who waslately awarded the Nobel, but I gather that his work lives in thisatmosphere.) Climates is not even the first Turkish film to tell usthat Istanbul is, in that sense, part of the West, but theexperienced writer- director Nuri Bilge Ceylan never explains hischaracters' spiritual state. He simply assumes that we willunderstand.

Ceylan also plays the leading male role and shows quickly that he isa valuable screen actor of a certain kind--a presence as much as aperformer, whose being verifies what he says and what he doesn'tsay. Ceylan's wife, Ebru Ceylan, who here plays his girlfriend, hasa good deal of this quality; but, partly because of her role andalso because of an evident temperament, she has other qualities aswell.

Ceylan plays a university teacher; she is the art director of atelevision series. On holiday at a seaside resort, they make theirway through the ruins of ancient temples, moving like abstractedvisitors through these monuments of faith. Time becomes almostvisual in the way that Ceylan handles the pace of this sequence--sosuggestively, almost oppressively, that we are not surprised tolearn that this pair has reached the end of their relationship. Nextday they part, with a kind of relief. Sustained passion, it isimplied, is the province of old poetry, not of modern lives.

The rest of Climates is about Ceylan's journey through solitude to areturn to a former girlfriend, then to--in a surge that surpriseshim--an attempted reunion with the first woman. Much of thisjourney consists of cinematized thought and self-investigation. Thechief overt action in the picture is his virtual rape of the secondwoman, though the sex becomes consensual. This episode isdeliberately ripped out of the film's quiet texture; it is credibleprecisely because it is so strange. In the final sequence of thefilm, Ceylan follows his first lover to a wintry mountain location,where her television show is being made. Reunion is not glib. Inthe last shot he faces us alone as snow falls around him. Hedisappears: the snow remains. A dog barks.

It is fair to ask if Climates would be as effective if it were setin a country from which we expect films of this tenor. Admittedly,the setting does heighten interest, but this film is much more thanan ideational travelogue. Like all good art, it evokes asupranational affinity. And there is an unsurprising paradox: thisdrama of personal uncertainties is lodged in a certainty of form.