Some weeks ago I went to see Capote, the movie, but I didn't have time to add a review here. It is a good movie although I'm not quite sure how it would go down if you've never heard of Truman Capote before. It so happened that I was reading In Cold Blood when the film came out. It had been on my reading list for some time and purely by accident I had started reading it a week before the movie came out in The Netherlands. Of course I knew about Truman Capote's reputation and I knew the story behind In Cold Blood, but I had only read Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I really enjoyed.
It was a bit of a shock to see and hear Truman Capote. I didn't know he had such a drawling, lisping voice and I was unaware of his mannerisms. I only knew the photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson of a young Truman Capote. I read somewhere that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Truman Capote in the movie, spent months listening to tapes of Capote so as to imitate his voice as closely as possible. His performance is formidable and the Oscar he received for his role is well-deserved.
Now I must say that I was taken in by Capote, or at least by the Capote in the movie, and I think I understand why the real Capote eventually won the confidence of the people of Holcomb and the other characters in the book. The reason is that Capote is, or appears to be, who he is. He's not trying to be someone else. He is so queer, that people accept him as queer.
In Cold Blood is quite simply a magnificent book. It recounts the murder and search for the killers of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, Bonnie, their 16-year-old daughter, Nancy and their 15-year-old son, Kenyon. Right from the first few sentences I was hooked, Capote definitely had a way with language, and I stayed hooked until the very end. In the film we see Capote call his editor at the New Yorker magazine and tell him that he is working on something truly revolutionary, a non-fiction novel, in which the techniques of the novel are applied to the depiction of current events.
The movie is based on the years Capote spent writing and doing research for the book. We see him read the short account of the killings in The New York Times, we witness his first awkward steps in Holcomb and see him perform at various social events in New York.
The movie really shines where it portrays Capote's struggle to finish his book. When the killers were caught the book could only end in one way: with their execution. Capote wanted to finish his book, but during their trial and their time on death row, he had also taken to one of the murderers, Perry Smith. Perry confides in him and it is quite shocking to hear Capote lie to him just to get some more information out of him for his book.
After the execution, in 1965, Capote knows that he can put an end to his manuscript and that his book will be a triumph. But he is also heartbroken. After In Cold Blood Capote never wrote another book. I don't know how to say this, but I feel like I understand why. There is no way his inner conflicts could be resolved: his desire to finish his book, his feelings for the murderers, the Clutter family and the people of Holcomb, because he realizes that Perry Smith and his partner Dick Hickock are guilty of homicide and deserve their penalty. Apart from that, what characters could he invent after the real characters of In Cold Blood had been executed? He turned reality into fiction, but reality had the final word.