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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Truman Capote: The Duke in His Domain (Profile of Marlon Brando)

In 1957 Marlon Brando spent some time in Kyoto, together with the whole crew of Sayonara, doing the shooting on location for some scenes of the movie. Truman Capote came there to meet the actor and interview him.

To really understand Brando's persona seemed to be a task far from easy. Capote knew that from the very beginning: Marlon’s the most exciting person I’ve met since Garbo. A genius. But I don’t know what he’s like. I don’t know anything about him.  Even for the crew members  of Sayonara it had proved impossible to get to know the guy. Which was frustrating for them, naturally: he had shown himself on the set as a slouchingly dignified, amiable-seeming young man who was always ready to cooperate with, and even encourage, his co-workers—the actors particularly—yet by and large was not socially available.

Well, Capote came at the hotel and was led by a staff member to Brando's apartment. The encounter lasted till late in night.

Brando was talking continuously jumping from one topic to another, while keeping the talk on one single personage: on himself. Meanwhile Capote was listening, noting for himself subtle nuances (his voice—an unemotional voice, in a way cultivated and genteel, yet surprisingly adolescent, a voice with a probing, asking, boyish quality—seemed to come from sleepy distances), or falling in his own thoughts, about the actor, parallel with his endless talk. And Capote had a lot to think about the man in front of him, Their first encounter had been ten years earlier. By that time Brando was playing on Broadway, in A Streetcar Named Desire, He was unknown yet by and large, though among the New York theatre’s cognoscenti he had already attracted attention. And Capote was rememorating the way Brando had attracted his attention: as if a stranger’s head had been attached to the brawny body, as in certain counterfeit photographs... taut skin, a broad, high forehead, wide apart eyes, an aquiline nose, full lips with a relaxed, sensual expression.

Now and then Capote was coming back from his thoughts and was interrupting the actor with a quick question, moving his monologue in a new direction, or the reverse: one sentence of Brando pushing the flow of thoughts somewhere else.

The result would be The Duke in His Domain: a fascinating portrait of Brando; a portrait in counterpoint, with three themes evolving in cooperation and competition: the monologue of the actor, the thoughts of the writer, and the chain of events taking place in the hotel apartment during the evening. Like the movement of several clouds, each one seeming unaware of anything else but itself, each one getting gentle pushes from the others, changing its shape, enlarging or shrinking, breaking and recomposing; and the whole creating a great mood and great tones and semitones.

When Capote eventually left to go to his hotel, he found himself trapped within unknown streets in an unknown city: quite a contrast to daytime, when the central parts of the town, caroused by crowds of fiesta massiveness, jangle like the inside of a pachinko parlor, or to early evening—Kyoto’s most exotic hours, for then, like night flowers, lanterns wreathe the side streets, and resplendent geishas, with their white ceramic faces and their teal looping lacquered wigs strewn with silver bells, their hobbled wiggle-walk, hurry among the shadows toward meticulously tasteful revelries. But at two in the morning these exquisite grotesques are gone, the cabarets are shuttered; only cats remained to keep me company, and drunks and red-light ladies, the inevitable old beggar-bundles in doorways, and, briefly, a ragged street musician who followed me playing on a flute a medieval music.

The Duke in His Domain was published in The New Yorker in 1957, in the November 9 issue. Here is the text:

(Truman Capote)



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