Charlie Don't Surf

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On "Capote"

To Bill Shein, December 14, 2005

I thought "Capote" was just excellent. He was such a gentle manipulator, and the deepening spectacle of his relationship with the two killers is great dramatic stuff.. Harper Lee goes to Kansas with him to serve as his researcher, sweet-talking housewives and schoolgirls so Capote can interview them or otherwise wheedle out facts about the case. He becomes the killers' friend and finds them a lawyer -- their guilt is never really in question -- while using them unapologetically for what he knows will be a history-making book, and it is. He won't tell them the title or anything else about it, and often lies right to their faces. He bribes a prison warden to give him unlimited access to their cells. He nurses Perry Smith back to health with baby food after Smith goes on a hunger strike. Toward the end, Capote gets frustrated because their execution keeps getting delayed, which prevents him from finishing and publishing "In Cold Blood."

Probably don't need to note how excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the role.

Funny, I didn't have your issues with the story... why did he not get them another appeals lawyer? are you serious? because he wanted them to die -- he wanted to finish the book. He was a sensitive enough soul to gain their confidence and friendship to advance his ends, but he was using them throughout. But the moral weight of both 1) having befriended brutal child killers, then 2) basically ignoring them when they no longer served a useful purpose was eating at him, obviously... All you have to see is the look in Nelle Lee's face toward the end when she's on the phone listening to him make fun of Perry Smith's diary. Chris Cooper's character lets him have it, too. I'd be drinking too if I had to live with that, jesus... But the question the movie raises is, were those moral compromises worth it for the epochal work they allowed him to write? there's all sorts of good stuff in there that relates to the questions journalists and other nonfiction writers face re: their subjects. Look at Joe McGuinness, who lied to that guy right up to the end for "Fatal Vision."

Of course Capote was selfish -- he was famously self-centered and egotistic, especially after "Breakfast at Tiffany's" -- though he discomfits himself considerably in the service of the book. He's smart enough to know he's on to something good. I don't know if the movie needs to do a lot of psychological spadework in that regard. An even more selfish guy could have easily not frozen his ass off out in Kansas for four years sweet-talking sheriffs and psychotics.