Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stubs – Capote

Capote (2005) Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins, Jr. Directed by Bennett Miller. Screenplay by Dan Futterman, based on the book, Capote, by Gerald Clarke. Produced by Caroline Baron, William Vince, Michael Ohoven Run time 114 minutes. US. Color. Biography, Drama.

The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman led us to watch Capote. But that is not the only reason I was interested in this movie. Truman Capote was a well-known writer of such short stories as “A Christmas Memory”, and novels like Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), The Grass Harp (1951) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1956), prior to writing In Cold Blood. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear him read aloud A Christmas 
Memory at a speaking engagement, so I was curious if Hoffman’s Capote would ring true to me.

The real Truman Capote at about the time depicted in the movie.

Three years after the publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and already a fixture on the New York society scene, known for his wit, Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes across a story in the New York Times about the cold-blooded killing of the four members of the Clutter family. Capote calls The New Yorker magazine editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) to tell him that he plans to document the tragedy.

Capote travels to Kansas with his childhood friend and fellow writer Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Capote intends to interview those who knew the Clutter family, using Lee as his go-between and facilitator. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s lead detective on the case, Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), brushes Capote off, but his wife Marie (Amy Ryan) is a fan of Capote's writing and persuades Dewey to invite Capote and Lee to their house for dinner. Star struck, Marie is shown as captivated by Capote's stories of working on Beat the Devil, starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston.

Capote (Hoffman) is a bit of a fish out of water in Kansas,
even though he's travelling with his friend, Harper Lee (Keener).

While they’re still investigating in Kansas, Lee hears about her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which she has been working on for years, has been accepted for publication by Lippincott. The book, Lee’s only novel, would go onto to sell 30 million copies and be made into a major motion picture.

Over time and over drinks, Dewey warms up to Capote and allows him and Lee to view the photographs of the murder scene. The Deweys are in fact having dinner with Lee and Capote when the murder suspects, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Richard "Dick" Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), are caught. Capote watches from the sidelines as the two are returned to Kansas to stand trial.

The Deweys warm up to Capote and Lee over drinks and dinner.

Flattering the Sheriff’s wife, Dorothy Sanderson (Araby Lockhart), and by bribing her with a signed copy of one of his books, Capote gains access to the Sheriff’s living quarters inside the courthouse. In their kitchen is a cell in which Perry is being kept. Capote begins to form an attachment to Smith and informs Shawn of his intent to expand the story from a piece in the New Yorker into a full-length book.

In the movie, Capote has the murderers pose for photos by Richard
 Avedon (Adam Kimmel) to be used with his New Yorker story.
Here Capote poses with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.)

Following the trial and conviction, Capote is able to gain continued access to the murderers by bribing Warden Marshall Krutch (Marshall Bell). Capote spends the following years regularly visiting Smith and learning about his life. At some point, Capote goes on a much promised trip to Morocco and Spain with his romantic partner, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood), where he writes the first three parts of his book.

Capote becomes emotionally attached to Smith despite the gruesomeness of the murders. But for a long time, Smith refuses to tell Capote about that night in 1959, which angers Capote. But after a lot of persuasion, Smith finally goes into great details about the murder, telling Capote that he snapped and killed Mr. Clutter and then the rest of the family.

Capote grows exasperate while legal appeals drag on in the courts. The convicts ask for his help in finding them a new lawyer, but Capote claims he can’t find one. He is truly more concerned about having an ending for his book, rather than the lives of Smith and Hickock or for justice for the Clutters. In the meantime, To Kill a Mockingbird becomes a best-seller and is made into a motion picture, both things which surprise and annoy Capote.

Lee confronts a less than celebratory Capote at the after-party
 following the premiere of the film, To Kill a Mockingbird.

When their last appeal is rejected by the Supreme Court, Smith and Hickock are hanged, with Smith's hanging being explicitly shown. Capote, who was a witness, tells Lee how horrifying the experience was and laments that he could not have done anything to stop it. She replies, "Maybe not; the fact is you didn't want to." This is the last line of the film. The next and last scene shows Capote looking at photos from the case as well as writings and drawings given to him by Smith.

Capote tells Lee about witnessing the hangings of Smith and Hickock.

The book, In Cold Blood, which is one of the first examples of a non-fiction novel, is a pioneering work in what is now called true crime genre. While writing about a real life event, Capote did fictionalize some of the events and dialogue to suit the story, so it crosses the line between fiction and nonfiction. First published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker magazine, beginning on September 25, 1965, the book was published by Random House in January 1966. While it was a best seller, it was also the last book Capote would publish during his life time. Answered Prayers, a book Capote had in the works since 1958, wasn’t published until 1986 in England and 1987 in the US, but then as an unfinished novel. Publication of a chapter from the book, Le Cote Basque 1965, published in Esquire magazine in 1975, led to Capote’s being ostracized from the New York social scene, as people feared he would make their private lives and foibles public.   

In Cold Blood, a film based on the book, was released in December 1967. Directed by Richard Brooks, the film starred Robert Blake as Perry Smith, Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock, John Forsythe as Alvin Dewey and features Paul Stewart as a reporter.

Capote on location for In Cold Blood with actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson.

A miniseries was also made in 1996 based on the book and was broadcast on CBS. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the series starred Anthony Edwards as Dick Hickock, Eric Roberts as Perry Smith and Sam Neill as Alvin Dewey.

Capote is not the only film based upon his research for his book. In 2006, the film Infamous starring Toby Jones as Capote was released. Based on the 1997 George Plimpton book: Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, Infamous unfortunately covers much of the same ground as Capote. Despite a cast which included Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, Daniel Craig as Perry Smith and Jeff Daniels as Alvin Dewey, the film was, as they say, a dollar short and a day late. Despite rave reviews for Jones’ impersonation of Capote, the film made only $2.6 million on a budget of $13 million. The film also took some liberties with the story, fabricating a sexual encounter between Capote and Perry Smith that never happened.

While the real selling point of Capote is Hoffman’s portrayal of the author, the film itself is rather slow moving. The act of writing is not a spectator sport, so fortunately little screen time is spent on actual typing. The pace is leisurely to say the least, making moments when there is action, as when Smith recounts the actual murders, all the more horrifying as they are like exclamation points when you’ve only been using commas and semi-colons.

Truman Capote does not come off well in the portrayal. While he is witty and can appear empathetic, he is ultimately a user of people. His only real interest in Smith and Hickock is that they’re a good story. While he initially is willing to help them, by finding a lawyer for their appeal, he stops helping when their death sentence delays prevent him from finishing his book. He is also seen as petty as he does not participate in the success of Lee’s novel. While he is initially happy for her, he become bitter when her fame eclipses his, if only temporarily. Lee would never write another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, though it remains one of the great novels of the 20th century.

Philip Seymour Hoffman received just about every acting award you could for the movie. While I don't know how accurate his portrayal was for the private Capote, he does seem to capture the public persona down to the mannerisms and his way of speaking. A talented actor, Hoffman made numerous appearances on Broadway, last appearing in 2012 as Willy Loman in the revival of Death of a Salesman. He also appeared in films since 1991. The movies he appeared in include: Twister (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998), Flawless (1999), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Cold Mountain (2003), Strangers with Candy (2005), Mission: Impossible III (2006),  Doubt (2008), Moneyball (2011), The Master (2012), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013). He will appear in the still to be released The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) and its sequel, Part 2 (2015). Hoffman died of a drug overdose on February 2, 2014.

The screenplay by Dan Futterman also received a lot of acclaim. Nominated for, but not winning, the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, it marks the one and only screenplay written by Futterman, an acting friend of Hoffman's as well as a friend of director Bennett Miller. Since then he's been writing and producing for television, including the HBO drama In Treatment starring Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest that ran for three seasons.

Capote is not a feel good movie, nor was it intended to be. But it has some great acting and a good story, which the film takes its time telling. While the pace might be too slow for some, the film is ultimately worth watching at least once. But I can see why, after sitting through Capote, the world wasn’t anxious to do it again when Infamous came out the next year. Ultimately, Capote is an interesting look at the background of a best-selling book and the author who wrote it.

No comments:

Post a Comment