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What makes 'Capote' a gay film?

From: Glen Ira, Los Angeles, CA

I truly hope this helps you understand something that you are genuinely having some difficulty understanding. You've assigned your own presumptions to people you don't know, and that's interesting, coming from a man who applauds “Crash” for exposing prejudices. Before I touch on “Crash,” let me disabuse you of your misunderstanding regarding "Capote":

”Capote,” as portrayed, was an asexual, passionless, freakish stereotype whom audiences could look at as the "other" and look down upon both for being a stereotypically gay man and for doing morally dubious things solely to fuel his ego. You cannot fairly draw the comparison that you do. He was "safe" gay. He showed no overt romantic or sexual interest in a man. What little there was remained at a very safe, dispassionate distance, and was merely implied. Capote was a quirky asexual queen, the kind that those who are uncomfortable with gay people, and even those who are outright anti-gay, can enjoy watching and happily award an actor for playing (just like they can happily award an actor for playing the autistic or deformed man).

But they can't award the far more amazing performance, the one that was richly layered and had more going on in one scene than “Capote” had across the whole movie, the performance that honestly portrayed a non-stereotypical, average masculine gay man who loved and lusted and didn't fit their safe little stereotypes -- the one that bothered them because they couldn't point and laugh and say "other." Hoffman was superb, absolutely superb, as always. But his role just didn't demand. or he didn't deliver. the subtle layering that Heath Ledger (or Jake Gyllenhaal for that matter) delivered in “Brokeback Mountain.”

It's insulting for you to even suggest that people would cry "homophobia" for “Capote” not being named Best Picture. If “Crash” weren't such a resoundingly awful movie in so many people's view, the reaction to the Oscar vote wouldn't be this strong. Even if “Good Night, and Good Luck” had won, there would be less potent emotion, because at least that is a work of cinematic art. “Crash,” however, is not in the least bit a piece of art. It's a message, and a poorly conceived and executed one at that. This fuels the emotion and the sense of a snub.

”Crash” was trashed by many when it was out. You claim people only pointed out its flaws when it "threatened" “Brokeback Mountain.” That's quite a distortion. You must realize that it was only worth pointing out the flaws of “Crash” loudly when other people started raising the volume of the undeserved praise. Someone makes a bogus claim, someone else refutes it. It honestly is that simple. What point would there be in pointing out “Crash”'s flaws many months after it was out of theaters if nobody else were bringing it up and singing its praises?

You, of all people, should understand that sometimes a film can honestly seem amazing to you and horrible to others, or vice versa. Honest opinions can vary 180 degrees. As much as you say it's "extreme" for people to call “Crash” the worst of the year, many others, including myself, think it's "extreme" for you to call it the best -- or even mildly good. I frankly cannot figure out what you and some others see in it. It is as if you saw a different film. Honestly, I'd love to understand, but nothing you have written about it holds much water as far as I can tell.

”Crash” is plagued by laughable, on-the-nose dialogue, simplistic views of race and human nature, and hammy acting. It is insulting cinema. Right from scene one, the dialogue is embarrassingly false: "Graham, we were rear-ended. We spun around three times. Somewhere in there one of us lost our frame of reference. I'm gonna go look for it." Who in the world talks like that? Nobody. That is oh-look-at-me-I'm-a-clever first-time writer dialogue. It made me laugh out loud, but it also made me feel insulted. It reeks of a writer who is monumentally self impressed, who assumes I am an idiot.

I gather SAG awarded this cast because they liked the free DVDs and many self-absorbed actors wished they could have chewed the screen with all that overacting and mugging too. Such a decent cast of lovable actors (including the great Don Cheadle), yet nearly every one of them is one-note and wearing it all on the surface. Not one of them developed a real character, or at least that showed on screen. There is no depth or subtlety or layering or real life behind all that stilted dialogue. It's reminiscent of decent musical theater acting. I would blame the director, not the actors. What an insult to the brilliance and subtlety and rich, raw texture of every single performance in “Brokeback Mountain,” to give these one-note performances an award of any kind. Even “Capote” had far more nuanced acting than this (but not nearly as nuanced as “Brokeback”; sorry Mr. Hoffman, but Mr. Ledger's layered performance has no equal since early Brando).

”Crash” is a series of comically over-performed "issue" speeches and mini-monologues, each ending with a big, affected zinger -- as if the actors were on a dinner theater stage and the curtain were about to drop and they desperately wanted their Applause Line heard in the back row. Take for example the auto mechanic, who gestures for the two carjackers to come closer just so he can end the scene with his zinger: "Do I look like I wanna be on the Discovery Channel? Then get the f**k outta my shop!" Oy. (I half-expected Cary Elwes to dip his head in and reprise his eye rolling after every lame joke in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”!)

Or take the carjackers complaining about everyone being scared of them, including the Sandra Bullock character, right before they whip out their guns? That entire conversation was false, done solely to fool the audience. Not an honest note between them. The movie is full of it, it talks down to the audience, and I for one resent that sort of filmmaking.

Even the music was insulting. It kept creeping in just in case we weren't quite sure what we were supposed to be feeling, as if the obvious dialogue weren't sufficient. For example: sweet dad under the bed with his sweet little girl -- better play that sweet music or the dumb audience might not understand this is a sweet emotional moment.

”Crash” is a movie-of-the-week "issue" piece, with a simplistic and false message. This is not how people behave, this is not how people speak, and this certainly is not how people think, because if they did, they'd speak and behave that way. Pseudo-liberals may feel good about being able to say it's all this simplistic and oh yes, we're all racists and sometimes we have good reason to be. More power to them, good luck waking up.

There is ample evidence many Academy members refused to see and/or were offended by “Brokeback” because of its unabashed gay content (which “Capote” did NOT have, despite your odd and inaccurate assertion to the contrary). Years from now you will find that “Brokeback” is still being studied and analyzed as a masterful work of cinematic art. It will endure, long after “Crash” is forgotten. You have to know this, but even if you don't, at least give others the courtesy of taking us at our word that we thought “Crash” was pathetic and “Brokeback” a masterpiece. I respect your opinion, as bizarre as I think it is, and I hope you respect mine, as bizarre as you obviously think it is.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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