Capote: One Cat's Opinion

Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 07:02 pm
I saw the movie Capote last night.

I have always thought Truman Capote was a talented and brilliant writer. "A Christmas Memory," is one of my favorites of his stories.

But I have to admit, I never really got the point of "In Cold Blood." To be honest, I have never read the book, but I have seen the 1967 movie that was based on it.

In it, Capote relates the true story of the Clutter family, who lived in Kansas and were murdered one night in 1959 by two thugs, Perry Smith and Richard Hickcock, who were hoping to rob them of some serious money.

However, Smith and Hickcock were mistaken. The Clutters did not have any big money lying around, or stashed away in a vault in their home. But they murdered the family anyway, and walked away with forty dollars to show for it.

For one thing, I don't like books or movies that attempt in any way to make "folk heroes" out of murderers or give them any unnecessary fame.

After watching the movie, "In Cold Blood," I just felt nauseated by the whole thing….and what was the point? Capote focused his "story" on one of the two murderers, Perry Smith. It turns out that Perry Smith was intelligent, well-read and artistic. But he came from an impoverished background and parents who were alcoholic and abusive. Surprise, Surprise!

So what are we supposed to do with that information? Wipe out poverty? Make sure no one ever suffers at the hands of abusive parents? If we could only do that, we'd no longer have any murderers among us, I suppose. Except, of course, for the ones who did not come from an impoverished background; the ones who were never abused (Scott Peterson springs to mind).

But when I saw Capote last night, I think the film made me realize something. Maybe there never was a point to "In Cold Blood," even though Capote tries to attach one to it. "It is the story of the underbelly of this country -- and the conservative, respectable side -- and how they collided on that night." Blah de blah blah….

However, in the film, it becomes apparent that the writer was fascinated with the "players" in this real life drama from the start.

He was fascinated with the idea of the all-American Clutter family and the seemingly perfect, albeit simplicity of their life -- and later, even more fascinated with the murderer Perry Smith.

To Capote, the whole thing was just one big fascinating "story," a real-life novel. In fact, he later described "In Cold Blood, " as the first "non-fiction novel."

He announces to the sheriff of this small Kansas town, "I really don't care if you catch these guys or not, I just want my story."

He later goes to great lengths to prevent the murderers from being promptly executed (by hiring an expensive attorney who manages to get them an appeal) so he can continue to win the confidence of Perry Smith and learn about his story - and hear from "the horse's mouth" exactly what happened on the night of the murders.

He develops a relationship with Smith over a period of about two years, during which time he gets the story he desires.

He then basically abandons Smith and Hickcock to their fate, all the while assuring them that, "I'll do all I can to help."

In fact, Capote is now actively hoping for the execution of Smith and Hickcock. After all, his "story" needs an "ending." How can he finish his book - or ever get it published - without a dramatic ending?

Well, the two murderers eventually lost their appeal and were executed. Smith requested that his "friend" Truman Capote be present during the hanging - and Capote reluctantly obliges.

During his final meeting with Smith, it is as if Capote faces his own unfeeling callousness during this whole saga - and breaks down in tears.

It seems that there is good reason why Capote identifies, at least somewhat, with Perry Smith. He has gone about getting his story in a manner that could also be described as "cold blooded."

And yet, another thing that struck me was how beautifully written "In Cold Blood" actually was. There is a scene in which Capote does a reading from his book, and the audience falls silent while he weaves a spellbinding "story" with haunting prose.

This film is about the artist who can ruthlessly "use" the human beings around him, and their lives, as mere fodder for his "art," and yet communicate their story with great sensitivity.

It brings to mind that avant-garde film from the sixties, "Blow Out," in which a photographer views everyone and everything happening around him as a potential photograph.

He goes to a park one day to shoot some pictures and inadvertently photographs a murder taking place in the background. When he realizes what he has captured, his only thought is to return to the park to see if he can find the body and photograph it as well. But when he returns to the park, alas, the body has already been discovered and removed.

The only thing he regrets is the missed opportunity to take what would have been one hell of a picture.

If you get the chance, check out the film "Capote."
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Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 07:24 pm
Yep, pretty much catches it. IN COLD BLOOD could have easily described Capote himself.
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Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 08:09 pm
Yep. I just posted this on Capote in the Movie Journal thread, after seeing it tonight:

nimh wrote:
Went to see Capote tonight with a Russian and Belorussian colleague. Good movie.

I liked the parallel that was drawn between the writer and the criminal. The writer saying: "I feel we grew up in the same house; but he walked out of the back door, and later I walked out the front door". This keen sense that, but for a whisker of fate, it could have been us on the other side, appeals to me.

Then there's the darker side of the same thing, in this film. When the criminal's sister warns the writer: he can wrap you round his finger - he'll show you his sensitive side, and you'll be taken in - but make no mistake, he might kill you the next moment; you realise that - the man described here, who will manipulate as much out of instinct as to get what he wants, will play on your emotions and in the end will - in cold blood - do whatever he needs to get it his way - that's the writer, too, the writer who will leave the criminal at sea without a lawyer for his crucial Supreme Court appeal when he thinks that, if the criminal would win it, he wouldn't be able to finish his book. They are each other's mirror image.

Fascinating. Well acted and well shot, too. Still, dont know whether I will remember much of it in a few months' time. In fact, the reason I've dug up this thread to type out the above thought is because I suspect the movie will quickly disappear from memory..
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Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 08:37 pm
farmerman wrote:
Yep, pretty much catches it. IN COLD BLOOD could have easily described Capote himself.

I believe that was pretty much the point of the movie...which I loved.

They were mirror images.

As Truman also realized....especially when Harper Lee tells him as much, when he has tried to avoid being at the execution.
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Stray Cat
Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 09:29 pm
Thanks for the responses. That was one interesting film.

Nimh, that was an excellent post you wrote!
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Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 10:20 pm
Oy! I didn't have time to read Nimh's response before!
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