Other Voices Other Rooms

USA 1995

Reviewed by Rob White


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Thirteen-year-old Joel rides a bus to Noon City in the deep south of the US. He remembers how a letter had arrived at his aunt Ellen's house in New Orleans from his long-absent father summoning him to live in his mansion at Skully's Landing. When he finally reaches the house he meets his aunt Amy and cousin Randolph, but there's no sign of his father. He befriends Jesus Fever, the elderly servant, and Jesus' daughter Zoo, as well as Idabell, the fiery daughter of the neighbour. He discovers his paralysed and autistic father in an attic bedroom. It was Randolph who wrote the letter.

Amy steals the letters he tries to send to New Orleans while Randolph slowly captivates him with stories of Cuba and his futile love for Pepe (whom Randolph writes to, care of all the world's capital cities). Jesus dies. Zoo runs away but returns after she has been raped and beaten in the road. Joel and Idabell run away but return when Joel is bitten by a snake. Aunt Ellen visits, bringing Joel's things which Amy hides. Joel finds them and confronts a drunken Randolph who confesses to shooting and paralysing Joel's father. Joel leaves Skully's Landing.


Other Voices, Other Rooms was Truman Capote's first novel, published to enormous acclaim in 1948 (when the author was only 24). Told from the point of view of Joel Sansom, a 13-year-old boy uprooted on false pretences in order to stay with relatives in the deep south, it's a claustrophobic chamber piece, part gothic saga of family secrets, part coming-of-age memoir. It was always going to be a difficult novel to adapt to the screen. Lacking the film-friendly premises of In Cold Blood (1967) or Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), it's more purely a writer's book, full of subtly subjective narration and ornate descriptions of the fecund swamplands where the dilapidated Skully house sits, and the wasted, tormented people who occupy it. So it was a risky choice of source material for a first feature for documentarian David Rocksavage, and this isn't a particularly distinguished debut.

There are too many curious experiments and evasions. The character of neighbour Idabell, prominent in the novel, is underdeveloped here, making her presence inexplicable. Instead of accentuating how the southern setting would appear to an adolescent and adopting the visual style of, for example, The Night of the Hunter (where everything is primal, enlarged, threatening to the senses), the film-makers give us swamps which are a little too muddy, a mansion just a little too peeling and battered. And while a framing voiceover delivered by a Capote soundalike is forgivable, the fantasy flashbacks where bibulous cousin Randolph remembers lost-love Pepe and imagines Joel with them are simply bizarre in their staginess. They look like out-takes from Fassbinder's Querelle and - the very muted homoeroticism of Capote's book notwithstanding - seem entirely inappropriate. On the other hand there are two very powerful moments involving the servants Zoo and Jesus: an improvised prayer service in which father and daughter sing an exquisite spiritual, and a brief slow-motion sequence in which she's chased on an empty road before (we later discover) being raped.

What remains are the lead performances. David Speck as Joel could have been better coached and his diction is often awkward, but he has a wonderfully still, thoughtful face. Anna Thomson as the dipsomaniac Amy moves through the film like a ghost - pallid, crushed, tears always at the edge of her eyes. Lothaire Bluteau luxuriates in the decadence and the guilty, inward-looking maudlinity of Randolph. Both these adult players are compelling but finally too wan, too overcome by ennui, too eviscerated to lift the film beyond the ordinary.


Peter Wentworth
David Rocksavage
Sara Flanigan
David Rocksavage
Based on the novel by
Truman Capote
Director of Photography
Paul Ryan
Cynthia Scheider
Production Designer
Amy McGary
Chris Hajian
©The Golden Eye 1994 Partnership
Production Company
A Golden Eye Films presentation
Executive Producers
Robert Stigwood
Lili Mahtani
Associate Producer
Edward Bowen
Production Co-ordinator
Richard Futch
Liaison Officer
Todd Bruno
2nd Unit Co-ordinator
Donna Walls-Miller
Location Manager
Linda Lee
Assistant Directors
Edward Bowen
Elizabeth Green
Heidi Gottlieb
Script Supervisor
Christine Gee
Billy Hopkins
Suzanne Smith
Kerry Barden
Tanya Sullivan
Jennifer McNamara
Additional Photography
Les Stringer
2nd Unit Photography
Eric Anderson
Mark Petersen
Art Director
Glenn Rivers
Set Decorator
Sally Petersen
Jane Greenwood
Associate Costume Designer
Sarah Edwards
Wardrobe Supervisor
Kelly Mitchell
Key Make-up
Herta Jones
Key Hair
Darlene Brumfield
Ray Seti
George Apuzzo
Charles Giordano
Music Supervisor
John Kilgore
Music Editor
George Craig
Recording Engineer
Gary Chester
Music Researcher
Rich Samalin
"Prelude No. 6" Des pas sur la neige" by Claude Debussy, performed by Alexa Babakhanian; instrumental version arranged/conducted by Richard Fletcher; "Valse triste" by Oskar Nedbal,
arranged by Lars Payne, performed by The London Salon Ensemble; "Moon River - Piano Roll" by Lee David, performed by Kenneth Murray; "Martha" by Friedrich Flotow, tenor: Enrico Caruso; "La Fleur que tu m'avais jetté" from "Carmen" by Georges Bizet, tenor: Enrico Caruso
Sound Mixer
Jeffree Bloomer
Re-recording Mixer
Michael Jordan
Supervising Sound Editor
Budge Tremlett
Dialogue Editor
Jupiter Sen
Mark De Simone
UK Editors:
Leslie Hodgson
Teddy Mason
Diane Greaves
Jack Stew
Ted Swanscott
Jacques Leroide
Animal Wrangler
Dan Hydrick IV
Snake Wrangler
Heyward F. Clamp Jr
Lothaire Bluteau
Randolph Skully
Anna Thomson
Amy Skully
David Speck
Joel Sansom
April Turner
Missouri Fever, 'Zoo'
Frank Taylor
Edward 'Ed' R. Sansom
Leonard Watkins
Jesus Fever
Audrey Dollar
Idabell Thompkins
Elizabeth Byler
Florabell Thompkins
Moses Gibson
Little Sunshine
Terri Dollar
Ellen Kendall
Jayne Morgan
cafe woman
Brian Moeller
Lonnie Hamilton
old man on bus
Yami Hidalgo
Wayne Capabas
Bob Kingdom
Todd Langenfeld
Mark Stender
Kyle Steven Walden
Joel at age 4
Charles Barber
young Ed Sansom
Emilly Petta
Mrs Sansom
Guy Mercer II
good samaritan
Downtown Pictures
8,834 feet
98 minutes 9 seconds
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011