Monday, June 30, 2014

Film Pairing — Capote Times Two Or More, The Writing of In Cold Blood

While Breakfast At Tiffany’s may have been the most popular of Truman Capote’s books to make it to film and his most famous book, In Cold Blood solidified his place among America’s greatest writers. The book was considered part of a movement with various names — creative non-fiction, new journalism — that told a “factual” story with the emotion, plotting (and made-up, but in-the spirit-dialogue) to give the story the drama of fiction.  Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, among others were celebrated practitioners of the style.

Historians disagree about who was the first writer to employ this new style, though most give Capote the nod for his tale of mass murderers headed for the death penalty. Capote was convinced that using his new style In Cold Blood would be his masterpiece and bring him a Pulitzer. In a strange and bitter twist of fate, Capote would be passed over.  However, a few years later, Norman Mailer would a receive the coveted Pulitzer for Executioner’s Song, a book about the death penalty in the case of murderer Gary Gilmore.  Talk about punishment.

The weirdness continued.  Two moviemakers, unbeknownst to each other, embarked on movie bios of Capote.  Both focused their films on just the narrow period in the author’s life that involved the writing of In Cold Blood.

Infamous (2006) was the second of the two to be released and immediately suffered from the well-deserved praise of the first.  It was based on another high-society celebrity writer turned realist, George Plimpton.  Relatively obscure actor Toby Jones (at least in the U.S.) played Capote.  Not only was he nearly Capote’s identical twin and an incredibly fine actor, he was perfect for this version of this time in Capote’s life that paid more attention to the author’s life as club-goer and society maven whose flamboyance made him a foreign invader of a down-to-earth small town in Kansas. Townspeople were flattered and shocked.  Infamous had a star-studded cast:  Sandra Bullock, Lee Pace, Daniel Craig, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sigourney Weaver.  Cast and crew have reason to be proud of this fine movie.

 Not to diminish Infamous, Capote (2005), the film, is nonetheless the more powerful of the two. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as Truman, is not the dead-on copy that Toby Jones presented.  But this Capote delivers at a more meaningful level. Because of Hoffman and Dan Futterman’s script based on part of Gerald Clarke’s comprehensive biography, we see and understand a tragedy of classic proportions — Love of another versus love of oneself. This is the tragedy of Capote’s life.  I think the film is pretty much a masterpiece.

If you still have time on your hands, you can watch the highly regarded In Cold Blood (1967), the movie, with Robert Blake. To accompany An All-Capote evening, perhaps you would prefer to honor the author by dinking his favorite drink.  Make a pitcher of screwdrivers and put your car keys somewhere you won’t be able to find them.  And be comforted that least you’ll be getting your Vitamin C.

Film pairing, movie reviews, Truman Capote, Infamous, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Gerald Clarke, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Pulitzer Prize

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