Ripley’s Back! Or At Least Resurrected; Other Voices, Other Rooms

Capote’s First Novel(11)Reduced to Film

Truman Capote’s first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms , published in 1948 when he was only 24 years old, firmly established him as an overnight literary sensation. It’s the semi-autobiographical book that defined the seminal flow of his early themes-alienation, loneliness and isolation in the Southern gothic-and is regarded by many of his fans as his most lyrical work, paving the way for similar short stories and novellas such as The Grass Harp and A Christmas Memory that dealt with the chiaroscuro of the mortgaged heart as experienced by an unloved child. Haunted by the divorce of an itinerant father and an emotionally fragile, suicidally depressed mother, little Truman was always being farmed off to strange, decadent relatives who provided most of the local color for his vivid imagination. The search for love, for a place to belong, followed the author throughout his life, from his first appearances in the pages of glossy fashion magazines, lounging like a baby wombat on chaise longues, to his final days as a pickled pariah, soused with drugs and alcohol, a victim of his own self-destruction. It’s the kind of florid hothouse fodder that has always attracted filmmakers, but very few have been canny, shrewd or sensitive enough to capture Capote on film. Now, 50 years after its first appearance, Other Voices, Other Rooms has surfaced as a motion picture. It is my sad duty to report that the transformation is a sad, elusive disappointment.

Set in the steamy marshes of the deep South in 1938, it’s the coming-of-age story of Joel Sansom, a lonely, forlorn 12-year-old who, following his mother’s death, journeys to a rotting plantation on the edge of a swamp in search of the father who deserted him nine years earlier. When he arrives from New Orleans, he is immediately transported into a puzzling mosaic of strange distant cousins who keep his paralyzed and dying father hostage in an attic room. The grown-ups are Cousin Any (Anna Thomson), a fading belle who rouges and laces herself together like a kewpie doll, and Cousin Randolf (Lothaire Bluteau), a dreamy, prissy-mouthed homosexual who, wearing silk pajamas and ornate dressing gowns out of Madam Butterfly , wafts in a haze of brandy and tobacco smoke through empty rooms without electricity, running water or modern appliances. There is also a childlike black cook named Zoo (April Turner) who wears a scarf around her neck to hide the scars from the time her throat was slashed by a no-good husband who is working on a chain gang in the state penitentiary. Zoo feeds the boy grits and hush puppies while the cousins steal his mail, and oh, lordy, the carrying-on. Must be all those carbohydrates. Throw in a gang rape and a vicious attack by a poisonous water moccasin, and by summer’s end, the child has endured quite a few blows on his way to manhood. The facts are compiled like an outline, but without the book’s lovely literary descriptions, spiced with delicate metaphors and mercurial similes, the story just seems feverish and shallow. Capote’s critics often accused him of grandiloquence, but here is a perfect example of a movie so stolid and languid, it could benefit from some hyperventilation.

The director is David Rocksavage, a young, inexperienced British Capote admirer making his feature film debut. The script, which he co-wrote with Southern novelist Sara Flanigan, is faithful to the original (with a few minor changes). But the film has no tempo, no flavor, no sensory perception of how a child feels grasping the dark and light of this gothic world. The performances are perfunctory, although young David Speck has the look of an old soul trapped in the body of a boy, and Mr. Bluteau, last seen bald and dying as the gay concentration camp inmate in Bent , has the sardonic smile and falling bangs of the man Capote became in later life. You sense a mirror image of things to come in a wasted, dissipated life. But these are small brushstrokes in what should have been a richer canvas.

Like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil , this is a regrettable film of missed opportunities that again proves it’s not enough to fall in love with a book if you don’t know how to give its eccentricities life and engage the imagination. Lacking sound and fury, another fine book about the South has been reduced to a dull, lumpy film, like a sumptuous turkey feast picked to pieces by buzzards until only the bones remain.

Ripley’s Alive!(11)At Least Recycled

Sigourney Weaver, as astronaut Ellen Ripley, was killed off in Alien 3 with a chomping monster growing in her womb. It was the end of Ripley and, thank you Jesus, the end of this space-age horror genre. The directors of the first three Alien installments went on to more important assignments, the star proved she could act in The Ice Storm and with any luck at all, it might now seem like a distant nightmare. Well, guess what? Ripley is back from the dead in Alien Resurrection . It was all a big mistake. In Hollywoodspeak, that means the fourth time around, the junk-heap spaceship Nostromo is too late to talk logic.

In Alien Resurrection , Ms. Weaver looks like hell, but who can blame her? This time she’s been on ice for 200 years, which makes Ripley at least the same age as Yosemite National Park. To generate a plot, she gets cloned, the alien embryo is removed from her womb in a bloodcurdling surgery while we witness every scream in vivid close-ups, and the thing from hell is hopping mad. Then Ripley gets sewn together with elements both alien and human like the Bride of Frankenstein, a gang of murderous smugglers from another spaceship called the Betty arrives with illegal cargo, the thing gets loose, and it’s hell to pay. What follows is two hours of nauseating chewing and vomiting, blood splattering across the walls, oozing mucus and dripping fangs. ( Resurrection ‘s budget for horse glue probably exceeded the entire cost of The Ice Storm .) The surviving scientists run for their lives, but Ripley is left behind with a taste for flesh herself, not to mention a passion for basketball.

She’s also got a new best gal pal, a space mechanic with the ugliest hairdo of the year, played with sexual ambiguity by Winona Ryder. Poor Winona also has to figure out how to play a government-recalled robot with a burned-out modem. “I thought you were dead,” she tells Ripley in one of their intimate moments, fingers locked in a mock-lesbian interface. Ripley snarls, “I get that a lot.” These are the jokes.

The rest of this recycle is brain-dead, too, as everyone runs from teeth the size of ice picks as the alien monsters chase them from deck to deck, biting through solid steel. What’s more, there are a dozen more slithering horrors incubating on board, breeding all over the place. This time they can also fly and swim, and there’s a lot of underwater nonsense that makes you wonder where Esther Williams is now that we need her. While the aliens keep regenerating and Sigourney keeps machine-gunning them into worm soup, a definite déjà vu hangs over the fog and darkness. We’ve been down this hall before. Even the special effects, with computer-generated aliens and puppets in alien suits, look boring and repetitive. It’s two hours of stomach-churning violence, slime and schlock. Do not see it after a full meal if you see it at all. Some people’s idea of a good time is my idea of a surreal campfest conjured up after eating too many raw jalapeños.

After the third Alien crunchathon, Sigourney Weaver said she was washing her hands of the whole bloody mess. Even her family refused to watch these flicks. But she co-produced this one, so don’t tell me she didn’t get paid big bucks to endure all this punishment. Question: What will she pay the rest of us to sit through it? The last line indicates that with Ripley finally heading for Planet Earth, there will inevitably be a fifth installment. As we speak, some storyboard lunatic is probably mounting scenes in which invading aliens take jaw-sized bites out of the World Trade Center while Rudolph Giuliani vainly fights them off in a sequined housecoat.

Ripley’s Back! Or At Least Resurrected; Other Voices, Other Rooms