Other Voices, Other Rooms (1994)

by | Feb 28, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Other Voices, Other Rooms (1994)

Starring: Lothaire Bluteau, Anna Levine, David Speck, April Turner, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Leonard Watkins
Director: David Rocksavage
Studio: Ariztical
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen Color
Audio:  PCM Stereo
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: ***

The film Other Voices, Other Rooms, rereleased on DVD on February 28, is an adaptation of  the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Truman Capote written when Capote was only 23. Set in rural Louisiana in and around a decaying plantation mansion, this lyrical coming of age tale concerns Joel Sanson, a 13 year old boy (convincingly played by David Speck) in search of his long lost father. Joel  believes his father abandoned him and his mother nine years before.

As the story begins in the spring of 1938, we learn Joel’s mother has recently died and he is living with an aunt and uncle in New Orleans.  They have just received a letter which appears to be from Joel’s long absent father. A narrator, the adult Joel, reflecting on this pivotal part of his childhood, reveals that the father had learned of the death of Joel’s mother  and asked that Joel be sent to live with him. He is soon on his way by bus to remote Skully’s Landing and fetched for the last leg of the trip by elderly black servant Jesus Fever, who delivers him by horse and rickety carriage to what promises to be a unique Southern gothic journey.

Joel meets the lady of the house, Amy Scully, strangely brittle, who tells him about Cousin Randolph, who is not immediately available. It seems his father isn’t well and unable to receive company just yet. His father’s letter said nothing about these people!  Joel is like a small detective as he watches the goings on of the house and explores the decaying old mansion and grounds. “I had known and explored other houses quiet with emptiness but here there were voices in the walls and sounds on the edge of silence.”

Amy and Randolph reveal their eccentric and fragile natures in a variety of ways. Randolph is a flamboyantly gay artist who wears kimonos around the house and though quite languid, shows energy in relating to Joel wishing to become a surrogate father. His attempts in this regard leave quite a bit to be desired though he paints Joel’s portrait, engages him in games and conversation and orders schoolbooks. Joel is much more the adult than Amy or Randolph.

Slowly the mystery of his father and these people and their relationship is unraveled. The plot is secondary to the characters, though what is most noteworthy is the mysterious, dreamy, quintessentially Southern, gothic atmosphere which effectively carries us back in time.

My favorite part of the film is the relationship between Missouri (nicknamed “Zoo”) Fever, Jesus’ granddaughter, a black servant in the household longing to see the world. Her character evolves, as does Joel’s, in ways that are life affirming. April Turner excels in this role. On the other hand,  Randolph and Amy’s utterly self-absorbed characters are exasperating.  Joel finally shouts at Randolph, “What good is imagination if you don’t have the guts to live it?” Another poignant subplot concerns Joel’s developing friendship with Idabell, a troubled tomboy neighbor girl who has an ultra feminine twin, Florabell. Idabell is based on author Harper Lee, a close childhood friend of Capote.

The scenes of nature are beautifully shot. The original music is well suited to the languid, sad atmosphere.   Capote’s lyrical language in  this well-told story is a pleasure. The film’s theme seems to center on our essential aloneness in the world and how we come to terms with it or not. As Randolph remarks in one of his many lyrical sequences “What we most want in life is to be held and told everything’s going to be alright.”

– Donna Dorsett


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