The egocentric star, his talent and personable discourse praised by his admiring friends, revels in the glamour of fame and the limelight of Hollywood. One of America’s most prominent 20th century authors characterized in an artistic film, extracting the most bizarre aspects of a research project engulfed in murder, mystery, and execution.
Truman Capote would have loved it. Capote, directed by Bennett Miller, details the process by which author Truman Capote went about researching and writing about the murder of a Holcomb, Kansas family killed by two sociopath murderers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
In Cold Blood, the 1967 movie adaptation of Capote’s “non-fiction novel” of the same name, starred Robert Blake and Scott Wilson as Perry and Dick, respectively. Both gained great notoriety and recognition as the aforementioned serial killers.
Miller’s screenplay is notably different, however, as Dick’s character is nearly non-existent and nondescript, while Perry’s is highlighted and characterized in subtle psychoanalysis. It is for this reason, among others (as the execution of Dick is not shown, some nuances of the investigation are overlooked) that Miller’s Capote is an impressionistic screenplay, extracting chosen aspects of In Cold Blood and Gerard Clarke’s Capote, the highly-acclaimed 1988 biography that the film is roughly based on.
Capote, a magazine correspondent for the New Yorker and widely popular author, decides to research and write about the mysterious Kansas murders after reading a newspaper article on the case. Through the trials of the investigation, led by Alvin Dewey, a Kansas Bureau of Investigations agent played by Chris Cooper, Capote journeys through self-discovery, a compromising venture that finds him empathizing with the Clutter family, Perry, and most of all, himself.
Capote’s homosexuality is vaguely touched on throughout the film, though not explicitly. His conversations and trip to Spain with an unnamed fellow author suggest an intimate relationship between the two, as do the private visits Capote pays to Perry in prison.
Through a connection of personality and intellect, Capote remarks that he feels as if Perry and he had grown up in the same household, only “one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.” Capote’s empathy for Perry is evident, though it is not illustrated on screen nearly as much as Capote implied it in his text.
The underlying theme of Capote is his transformation and denigration from the adored and spontaneous novelist into the ruthless journalist.
While he connects with Perry and illustrates him as anything but the ruthless killer that Kansas labels him, Capote’s intentions behind assisting in the killer’s appeals process and their eventual execution are purely narcissistic.
He needs a story, so he prolongs their lives, though with every tale there is an ending. He all but abandons Perry in the days before his imminent execution because he needs him to die.
In essence, Capote wishes that Perry could live, though he willingly allows him to die for the sake of his story.
While Capote’s narcissism and self-involvement are accurately portrayed, the film slips into allowing the uninformed viewer to focus on only this.
The persona of Capote the man is silly and eccentric, but the depth of his intellect is vast and untold.
While Hoffman’s adaptation of Capote is certainly a valiant and relatively successful effort, his voice impersonation sometimes slips dangerously into a prissiness that overshadows the seriousness of his writing ability, and the two seem to juxtapose each other. Capote, a self-educated, self-made author who lacked the benefits of a college education garnered much respect and attention for an illustrative, eloquent, and ironically gruff writing style.
In Cold Blood was the beginning of Capote’s demise, as he never finished another novel, and soon slipped into health complications stemming from alcoholism. The old, often drunk Capote was an incomprehensible lush with a slurred version of his already child-like voice.
Let us remember him as the founder of the “non-fiction novel,” not the self-centered eccentric that he personified.