Thursday, November 24, 2005

Capote (2005)

I know a man who is a long-time friend of the woman portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film Capote, and had occasion to ask him if she had yet seen it, and if so what she thought. She had, she liked it, he told me, though with some understandable reservations. Among her reported comments: "If there ever was a New York premiere party for To Kill a Mockingbird, I certainly did not get an invitation."

The movie describes the research, composition, and publication of Truman Capote's true-crime masterwork In Cold Blood -- work accomplished with the generous aid of his good friend Harper Lee. Philip Seymour Hoffman vanishes into Capote the same way Johnny Depp vanished into Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; it's an all-in performance. But despite the wry, droll appeal she brings to the role, whenever Keener appeared onscreen, questions about Lee's "reservations" arose fresh in my mind: Did they really go to these places? Did things really happen in this order? Did these conversations actually take place? It's a dramatization, after all, not a documentary, so leeway should be expected, understood, allowed. But in this context, seems to me completely ignoring those questions just might risk a haunting by the ghost of Perry Smith.

Humans do not live their lives along easy, cohesive narrative lines -- but maybe, with a little tinkering, it could be so. As suggested by Bennett Miller's film (based on a biography by Gerald Clark), this was precisely born storyteller Capote's "investigative" strategy during his interviews with the Death Row-dwelling Smith. Those scenes map their developing relationship with anxious, sublime energy; when the climactic moment arrives, Perry's single-sentence confession bursts out like the gunshot it represents. Capote calculates his position according to the moment, so he may extract from the situation just exactly what he wants (heedless of needs, whether his own or those of others). In the end, when he defends himself: "I did everything I could do," it rings sadly true; for him, everything was limited simply to write a great book. What Capote could not do -- due to his unexamined faults and overwhelming desires -- was actually help.


  1. You say in your post: "Human lives are not parlor games to be tinkered with for amusement."

    Can you prove this?

  2. Yes. And I will do so if you will provide me with the following materials: (1) a jar of pickles; (2) a bag of Doritos; (3) an icepick.