Film: A flick through the Good and Evil book

Mark Cook visits Savannah, Georgia, whose eccentrics and scandalous past have brought Clint Eastwood to town

In Savannah, Georgia, there are the haves and the have-nots. You have either read The Book, or you haven't. And we're not talking about the Bible.

The Book, to the gracious (if occasionally loony) people of Savannah, is John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a combination of true crime thriller and travelogue, based on the town, its history and its gorgeous eccentrics. Published in 1994, it is now a film being directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Kevin Spacey.

Berendt is happy (he must have thought he had died and gone to publishing heaven when he stumbled on the town) and so is Savannah, which saw tourism double when the book came out. Coachloads still throng to a town where the film cameras had hitherto only visited to shoot Tom Hanks at the bus stop with his box of chocolates in Forrest Gump.

The events of the book are the alleged killing by a suave, nouveau riche art collector and bon viveur of his rebellious boyfriend (in the film, Hollywood Brit babe Jude Law, all tattoos and attitude) and the subsequent trial. Add to that an exotic cocktail of sex, voodoo and booze seething beneath Southern gentility, and you can understand one character's description of Savannah as "Gone With the Wind on mescaline".

Central to the story is the accused, Jim Williams, played by Spacey. The body was found in the Mercer House, an imposing, terracotta-coloured. two-storey building at one end of a square, the former home of songwriter Johnny Mercer, whose works provide the film's soundtrack.

The central character is the accused, Jim Williams, played by Kevin Spacey complete with tuxedo and Southern twang like an oh-so-cool, gay Rhet Butler.

Then there is the The Lady Chablis. Please note the use of the definite article to describe this indefinite article, a black drag queen (born Frank Deveaux). She is a woman with that little bit extra, a grande dame who could shrivel Coronation Street's transsexual Hayley with a bat of her monstrous lashes.

The Lady herself plays the film role, and she will forgive me if I say she is not in the first flush of youth. She has cheekbones under which you could shelter a small tribe in an equatorial downpour and a waist that Scarlett O'Hara would have stamped a foot for. Indeed, she emulates that heroine in one of the best scenes by turning up to a ball in a most unsuitable dress. While other ladies dance and curtsey in white, she shimmies and shakes her not inconsiderable booty in a revealing blue number.

Chablis has been canny enough to slide on to the Berendt bandwagon with an autobiography, a colourful tale of a life eked out in grotty drag bars, plus some helpful homespun styling hints and recipes.

Regrettably, the Lady herself had skipped town when I finally made my own Berendt-inspired pilgrimage; she was presumably resting after the exertions of working New Year's Eve at the night-club she has put on the map.

The cobbled river area, with a view across the water to South Carolina, is based around old cotton warehouses - Savannah was once the world's foremost cotton port. It is all T-shirt shops and eateries and the concrete hulk of a chain hotel. Where was the charm and romance - and all those nutters, like the seedy serial squatter and the man who has flies on a lead, of the novel?

Fear not. Cross the main road and in a matter of minutes streets open up into wonderful squares full of huge oaks from which Spanish moss (it's not Spanish, and it's not moss) drapes elegantly. Even in the steely light of a cloudy early January, the sense of profusion is overpowering. You can feel the laid-back atmosphere to which, in its two-and-three-quarter- hour length, Eastwood's film has succumbed all too easily.

Savannah, says Berendt, a New Yorker and columnist in Esquire magazine, is a hotbed of gossip, feeding on the eccentrics who live there. Loopiness is cultivated and appreciated. But Southern gentility demanded that Williams was ostracised during his trial for giving public voice to the love that dare not speak its name, and when he gave evidence of his closeted lifestyle Momma sat outside the courtroom.

That such eccentricity and eclecticism should arise from such a place is perhaps explained by the fact that Savannah has encompassed America's first Sunday school, the first orphanage, the first golf course, the first black Baptist congregation. It was also home to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and the woman who founded the Girl Scouts of the USA, and America's third-oldest synagogue. It also boasts the country's second biggest St Patrick's Day parade after New York.

So has Savannah got sussed to its uniqueness, and spoiled like some over- indulged Southern Belle? Last word to Berendt, in his preface: "Savannah's head has not been turned ... The city remains as gracious as ever to its visitors, but it continues to be steadfastly impervious to outside influence.

"There may be more tourists spending more money in Savannah ... but eventually they do what tourists always do: they go home. And that suits Savannah just fine."

News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    C# Developer

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client is lo...

    Business Project Manager

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor