Do you remember the movies your teacher would make you watch in high school after you'd just finished a chapter in your history book or a crazy-long novel? Well, David Rocksavage's recently re-released film Other Voices, Other Rooms is just that. The no-name actors, zealous accents and crazy costumes will put you right back into your third-row seat in Mrs. Johnson's sophomore English class.
Based on the book by Truman Capote, Other Voices perpetuated two stereotypes that I have about people from the South: first, that they are crazy, and second, that they speak in loud, theatrical drawls reminiscent of a community theater production of Oklahoma! If you haven't read the book, it is about the adventures of Joel Sansom, a boy about the age of ten who leaves his aunt and uncle's home in New Orleans to stay with his father, Ed, at the Landings. So, Joel (played by David Speck) takes the journey to the Landings deep into the bayou. He arrives at a monstrous home that's obviously in need of a good paint job, and is greeted not by his father, but by a woman named Amy - who is an absolute wreck.
Amy Skully (Anna Thomson of Unforgiven) is a petite, frazzled woman who claims to know Joel's father but won't release any details about his whereabouts. She speaks in an incredibly high voice and seems to be confused as to whether she's Southern or British. The pure density of her makeup screams craziness. We get to learn a little more about Amy's inbalance in the next scene, when Joel witnesses her killing a bird with a fire poker. Shortly afterwards, we encounter my favorite character of the movie: Missouri Fever, more commonly known as Zoo, who is a slave working for the Skullys. Zoo (April Turner) is exuberant. She welcomes Joel into her world as she cares for her dying father, Jesus, and reveals her dreams of leaving the Landings once her father dies to work somewhere where there's snow.
But it's Randolph Skully (Lothaire Bluteau of 24) who really holds any part of this film together. Not only is he the single principal actor in Other Voices, Other Rooms to find work in the past five years, but aside from Joel, who tells the story, he's also the main character. Randolph is married to Amy and is quite a character to say the least - he would have to be, to hang around with her. His wardrobe is fascinating, especially since he is rarely out of his pajamas. He has at least four satin robes and one very elegant, hot pink ballgown which he tries on once while he's reminiscing about his days in Cuba. Joel begins spending time with Randolph, who explains his philosophy of life while drinking and chain-smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes.