Tag Archives: death in venice

Who Was the Real Holly Golightly?

People want to know.

When Vladimir Nabokov published “Lolita,” readers assumed, wrongly, that he himself was Humbert Humbert, and that somewhere out there, a real Lolita -– or Lolitas -– was wandering around New England enchanting older nymphetophiles all the way to their graves or beds, whatever came first. Years earlier, when Thomas Mann published “Death in Venice,” people wondered at who the real Tadzio was (there’s even a small book on the subject: “The Real Tadzio” by Gilbert Adair), just as they wondered, and still wonder, which of Philip Roth’s hot-blooded intellectuals are the closest to Roth himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same was true of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Truman Capote’s story of Manhattan’s most freewheeling, fun-loving, semi-depressive call girl.

As long as there has been fiction, there has been the presumption that certain types of writers -– those working with incendiary, vaguely autobiographical material -– are only capable of romans à clef. Authors may deny it, some even adamantly, and yet their readers insist. But why? Are the priggish out for a scapegoat? Someone to pay for the titillation they refuse to call “imagination”? Or maybe it’s more innocent, and these readers are simply fans looking for another way to engage with the material they love.

When “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was published in the late-’50s, people wanted Capote to cough up names. His whole life long, Truman was forced, privately and in the press, to account for Holly Golightly. Who was she really? “The main reason I wrote about Holly,” the author said in a Playboy interview, “outside of the fact that I liked her so much, was that she was such a symbol of all these girls who come to New York and spin in the sun for a moment like May flies and then disappear.” That’s one answer.

Somewhat problematically, Capote’s cast of real-life characters changed from year to year. Was Holly really the dancer Joan McCracken, who was at one time married to Jack Dunphy, Capote’s longtime lover? It’s true that she, like Holly, met the news of her brother’s death with a fabulous, violent tantrum. Was there meaning in that? And of course there was also the young and lovely Carol Grace, who Capote met soon after her divorce from William Saroyan. And what about Gloria Vanderbilt? She was young and lovely too, and lived in a brownstone like Holly’s, and often entertained houseguest Russell Hurd, a charming gay man with, as she wrote, “the looks of Charlton Heston and the wit of Noel Coward.” That’s Holly and our narrator, is it not?

To read more, please visit the Wall Street Journal’s blog, Speakeasy.


How to Tilda

How can you convince an audience that Tilda Swinton is capable of living a sedentary life?

You can’t. That’s one of the problems with I Am Love, the enterprising and enterprisingly twee new film from director Luca Guadagnino. It’s a family saga in the Visconti style, and Guadagnino bows very low to Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, Ludwig, and Death in Venice (Marisa Berenson even appears in a few scenes – pretty smart, I thought), but the rest is soft-focusy hullaballoo, middling Merchant-Ivory in disguise. Rich matriarch “discovers” herself. Sex in fields. Closeups of glistening strawberries.

Which brings me back to where I started. Tilda Swinton can’t “discover” herself. Her look is too alien, her eyes too curious, and her sexuality too diaphanous. All that spells the opposite of bourgeois dispassion, which is the angle I Am Love is trying to take. It’s difficult to imagine a woman of Swinton’s rabid strangeness – somewhere between a maiden out of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the Geico Gecko – as a Dalloway type coming to her sexual senses. Babe Paley’s look, which Guadagnino should have gone for, speaks to the patrician multitudes of ladies who lunch with their orange Fendi bags and brittle bones of Christofle. A face like Swinton’s speaks to a life like no one’s.

You’ve got to give Guadagnino credit for casting way against type. Or Swinton credit for casting Guadagnino. As one of the film’s producers, she surely saw I Am Love as an opportunity to broaden her range beyond “personality” parts, and with the right director, I’m sure she could have pulled it off, but Guadagnino, unfortunately, is more interested in things than acting. Food, for instance, draws a majority of his attention. Curtains come second, and nature third. Oh, nature! How it makes the blood run warmish!

If you want to see slow motion bees, or a woman’s hand brushing through a sward of wheat, this is the film for you. But not for me. I always get nervous when actors get D.H. Lawrencey. All that passionate abandon in all those fields and someone is bound to get a rash, no? Only Ken Russell seems to get that even the most stimulated couple has to lay down a pocket square or two. But not Guadagnino. He loves art too much.

For all of his allusions to the master, this is a misreading of Visconti. The Leopard may be a production designer’s sogno bagnato, but all that linen and drapery is a part of the realism, just a backdrop. But Guadagnino sees it as content, placing I Am Love farther from Luchino Visconti, and closer to the Tom Ford school of cinema. Pretty is one thing, but I Am Love is so tra-la, it makes Elvira Madigan look like Mean Streets.


The Days of Wine and Dargis

He was young and eager and full of verve. He was vervish. When he spoke, he gesticulated with a robust sincerity that could be mildly off-putting. She was older, though not by much, striking in a bohemian way, and wrote for The New York Times, official paper of Judea. Her name was Manohla, and he loved her with a passion hitherto reserved for Gene Hackman in The Conversation.

“One day,” he vowed, raising a fist to the heavens, “One day we will be together. But until then, we shall remain like the lovers of 84 Charing Cross Road, separated by a great distance, except where the Anne Bancroft character was aware of Anthony Hopkins’ existence, and in fact communicated with him regularly, you have no idea who I am. So, actually, it’s more like 84 Charing Cross Road meets Harvey, but instead of a giant Rabbit, it’s you. Wait, never mind…” With great solemnity, he lowered his fist. No one was watching.

The days were long and they seemed longer in wideshot. Without her, life was like a Visconti movie of the seventies, ambitious, but meandering, and often quietly sensual. She was his Tadzio and for hours or sometimes minutes at a time he wandered the beaches of Venice hearing only his own breath as the objective audio faded from the mix.

Over the course of several dissolves, his breathing grew louder. By now his gay seeming linen suit was stained, but he had stopped caring. Now it was mostly over the shoulders, handheld, and with a little glare. He smelled of hot sand and Malvasia delle Lipari.

“One day,” he vowed again, now reaching both fists heavenward à la Personal Best, “One day, you and I will walk the streets of Culver Città, hand in ink stained hand. I will buy you antipasto and hope you offer to split the bill. Of course, I will insist, but you will insist with greater strength and rip the bill out of my hands. You will pull hard because I will be pulling relatively hard in the other direction to give you the impression that I really want to pay, which of course I do, but honestly, you have the killer job and I’m at home writing a blog at 6:15 on a Saturday night.”

His feet were parched and his mouth was also parched. It was tough to say which was more parched. On the one hand, there were his feet; on the other, his mouth. But there was no way to know. That’s how evenly distributed the parching was.

Tutti saranno fini,” he whispered. “Tutti saranno fini…” and then he died.