Catherine Kenner and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote
Daniel Craig in Infamous
Robert Blake in In Cold Blood
Truman Capote In Cold Blood (New York: Random House, 1965)
Richard Brooks (writer and director) In Cold Blood [film], based on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood / 1967
Gerald Clarke Capote: A Biography (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,
George Plimpton Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1997)
Dan Futterman (writer) (based on Gerald Clarke’s Capote: A Biography), Bennett Miller (director) Capote / 2005
Douglas McGrath (writer and director) (based on George Plimpton’s Truman Capote) Infamous / 2006
After the release of the 2005 film Capote, and before I even knew of the existence of a second film, I planned on writing an essay on the author and his novel of 1965, and had shared my interest and reading activities (I reread In Cold Blood soon after viewing Capote) with several friends. When I mentioned to Wendy Walker that I was planning this piece, she quickly responded: “Well, of course, that’s where it all began!”
….after everybody had gone, and I’d started to wash some dishes—
I heard him [Smith] crying. I turned on the radio. Not to hear him.
He’d never broke down before, shown any sign of it. Well, I went
to him. The door of his cell. He reached out his hand. He wanted me
to hold his hand, and I did, I held his hand, and all he said was “I’m
embraced by shame.”
Meir denied both that she had heard Smith cry and that she had held his hand. Certainly, the passage is a moving one that helps the reader to sympathize with Capote’s anti-hero Perry Smith, but if the actual player is to be believed, the events were fictional.
Then, touching the brim of his cap, he headed for home and the day’s
work, unaware that it would be his last.
The device may be dramatically effective, but it is also a hollow one: do most of us foresee the moment of our deaths? How could Capote know that Clutter touched the brim of his hat?
Dick ordered another hamburger. During the past few days he’d known a
hunger that nothing—three successive steaks, a dozen Hershey bars, a pound
of gumdrops—seemed to interrupt. Perry, on the other hand, was without
appetite; he subsisted on root beer, aspirin, and cigarettes.
One could believe that Capote was told of Perry’s eating and smoking patterns, but not that he would have known of the precise culinary intake of Dick Hickok. Are we really to believe, moreover, that even in Perry Smith’s extensive interviews with the author revealed the sexual of Hickok conversations in bed with a Mexican woman: “As though reciting a rosary, Dick incessantly whispered ‘Is it good, baby? Is it good?’” These, I argue, are the details of a fiction, a romance, not of an “immaculately factual” work.
In a social world at the opposite end of these glamorous New York scenes, Hickok and Smith had also been victims—of their parents, friends, jails, the American economy—and so too would Capote, in turn, victimize them. Perhaps the most shocking and yet revelatory scene of Infamous occurs when Perry Smith (stunningly performed by the current James Bond, Daniel Craig) turns the tables, so to speak, threatening Capote with rape. His howl of the unrighteous reminds one of the later outrage of many of Capote’s wealthy “swan” friends when he attempted later to publish his satiric work Unanswered Prayers—using his wealthy friends as the source of his characters. Obviously the significant difference between those who felt betrayed by Capote is that the “swans” could easily survive their “metaphoric” slaughter, while Smith and Hickok—despite Capote’s legal attempts on their behalf—ended with ropes about their necks and their actual deaths.
We realize that author and characters alike could no longer comprehend the effects of their acts upon others or the effects of the acts of others upon their own lives. Capote and his characters became victims of their own creations, frozen in their mix of ego, alcohol, and drugs.
It’s about Hollywood, and the beautiful people of Hollywood and New
York, and how they’re not beautiful. There was one vivid scene where
a woman is talking on the phone in a business office and somebody jumps
off the roof above and goes past and she just continues talking.
Los Angeles, December 18, 2006