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