The party’s over

The man who chron­i­cles the crimes of the fa­mous re­veals his own dark side, writes Graeme Blundell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

CELEBRITY writer Do­minick Dunne once asked Diane Keaton if she liked be­ing fa­mous. ‘‘ It’s more comfortable for me to deny it,’’ the ac­tor told him can­didly. It’s hard to imag­ine Dunne dis­parag­ing be­ing com­mod­i­fied: he’s air kissed his way across the worlds of Amer­i­can en­ter­tain­ment and so­ci­ety like no writer since Tru­man Capote.

The lit­tle white-haired guy with the trade­mark owlish glasses, venge­ful crime chron­i­cler of the rich and fa­mous for Van­ity Fair mag­a­zine, is the sub­ject of this clever fea­ture doc­u­men­tary by Aus­tralian film­mak­ers Kirsty de Garis and Ti­mothy Jol­ley.

Celebrity: Do­minick Dunne came and went quickly ear­lier this year in art-house cin­e­mas but seems more at home on tele­vi­sion. His life is cap­tured with such in­ti­macy, it’s as if he’s on the other end of the couch, a wily, some­times sad, old pal ad­dicted to so­cial­is­ing, still able to ex­tract and share the de­tails of a com­pli­cated ex­is­tence.

The 82-year-old makes you be­lieve you are the only per­son in whom he has con­fided, with a fa­mil­iar­ity that is some­times alarm­ing. De Garis and Jol­ley guide us flu­ently through a his­tory of Dunne’s var­i­ous roles as abused son of a well-todo Ir­ish Catholic Har­vard-ed­u­cated heart sur­geon; war hero; leg­endary Hol­ly­wood host and so­cial clim­ber; al­co­hol and co­caine ad­dict; nov­el­ist; and fi­nally ex­plore his ob­ses­sion with celebrity-rid­den mur­der tri­als.

They use home movies, tabloid court footage, press stills, street in­ter­views with some of Dunne’s de­trac­tors and elo­quently framed tableau photography of his friends and sup­port­ers. They had un­par­al­leled ac­cess to Dunne, al­most as if he felt he could un­bur­den him­self to strangers in a way he hadn’t be­fore to the empty, glit­ter­ing peo­ple sur­round­ing him.

The gen­eral tone is a soft­ened-down noirish aes­thetic, fea­tur­ing small gloomy ho­tel rooms where Dunne sits watch­ing tri­als on TV screens, the des­o­late cor­ri­dors out­side court­rooms, and the swirl of end­less par­ties that have the qual­ity of a for­bid­den box be­ing opened. Suresh Ay­yar’s al­most po­etic edit­ing and Antony Par­tos’s cool, jazzy sound­track add to the un­set­tling charm and sense of im­pend­ing mor­tal­ity.

Few seem so comfortable with celebrity. In­deed Dunne’s life is like an un­end­ing se­quence of Hol­ly­wood mo­ments. The 84-minute film dons the red suit. Nat­u­rally his ex-wife sues him for cus­tody of their son. But to more se­ri­ous mat­ters. In 2001, I said that Todd Field’s In the Bed­room ( Satur­day, 12.15am, Seven) was the best Amer­i­can drama since Amer­i­can Beauty : har­row­ing and in­tense but quite bril­liantly done. It’s one of those en­gross­ing films that have you talk­ing about the char­ac­ters af­ter­wards as if they were real peo­ple. Did they know she was see­ing him? Was the friend in it from the start? What did she mean when she asked him, ‘‘ Have you done it?’’ It’s about a small-town doc­tor in Maine ( Tom Wilkin­son) and his wife ( Sissy Spacek), whose son is mur­dered by a jeal­ous starts with Dunne the cen­tre of at­ten­tion be­hind a mi­cro­phone, per­form­ing to a gush­ing crowd in the dark­ness of an au­di­to­rium. He talks with the glib­ness of a born sto­ry­teller, eas­ily demon­strat­ing his fa­mous gift for the co­gent de­tail and the the­atri­cal mo­ment, one who has ob­vi­ously told the same tales many times.

He has more au­thor­ity here than he did in re­cent years on ca­ble TV, so of­ten in the spot­light of The Larry King Show on CNN, or on his own weekly crime pro­gram on Court TV, Power, Priv­i­lege and Jus­tice . There he detailed high­pro­file mur­der cases in which the per­pe­tra­tor and vic­tim were among the rich and fa­mous.

He has pro­vided won­der­ful TV, ap­pear­ing with a stag­ger­ing ar­ro­gance, a moral avenger never ac­knowl­edg­ing any ar­gu­ment for the rights of de­fen­dants. In Aus­tralia, Dunne ap­pears reg­u­larly on the CI chan­nel in the True Crime Sto­ries slot. Of­ten flinty voiced, frail-looking and oddly de­flated in­side his custom-made pin­striped suits and laven­der shirts and ties, he speaks with hes­i­ta­tion. Ac­cord­ing to le­gal com­men­ta­tor Ben Pesta, Dunne’s sto­ries have one ar­gu­ment: ‘‘ They’re all guilty, they all did it.’’

But at the start of this film, mak­ing a speech in the re­cent past, he is in full flight, con­sumed by his celebrity, his voice al­most sonorous. hus­band, and we ob­serve the dev­as­tat­ing fall­out of the tragedy on their mar­riage and their san­ity. Wilkin­son of­fers a mas­terly mix of sto­lid­ity and com­pas­sion and Spacek gives what is surely the per­for­mance of her life. Christ­mas is a time when we ask our­selves whether love and fam­ily are more im­por­tant than money and per­sonal safety, and the an­swers sug­gested in Ber­trand Blier’s How Much Do You Love Me? ( Fri­day, 10.55pm, SBS) aren’t en­tirely clear. Fran­cois ( Bernard Campan) is a shy, mildly de­pres­sive char­ac­ter who be­comes ob­sessed with Daniela ( Mon­ica Bel­lucci), a pros­ti­tute. When he tells Daniela he has won the lot­tery and of­fers her

Can­did cam­era: Do­minick Dunne, above; and talk­ing to Kirsty de Garis, main pic­ture

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