Monday, March 7, 2016

How I Spent My Sunday: Capote

My Sunday, March 6th, was pleasant. Tit Elingtin and I had brunch at Granite City Food and Brewery with my parents. The Sunday brunch is a delightful affair, with large, sticky cinnamon rolls, fresh slices of juicy pineapple and melon, mashed redskin potatoes, and waffles with pecan pieces.

After the meal, we went to Barnes and Noble, which is part of the same shopping complex. I didn't find the book I wanted, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I'm currently listening to the audiobook of her novel Landline, and I'm obsessed. I want to read her other two books (Landline and Attachments) eventually.

Rowell released a short story, "Kindred Spirits," on March 3rd, which is World Book Day in the U.K. (I wish we had World Book Day in the U.S.A. People dress up like their favorite book characters, like a literary Halloween.) I don't think it's available for the worldwide market yet, but that's okay, because I still have to finish my current Rowell book and two others. That'll take a while.

I didn't find the book I wanted, but my mom chose Murder Past Due by Miranda James, the first book in the Cat in the Stacks series. I can't say I blame her; it has a cat and a library.

The woman in line behind us struck up a conversation about the Harry Potter wand pens. Then another woman got in line behind her carrying a thick book about mythology. They declared their mutual love for myth, and the first woman said in honor of Greek myth, her daughter's name is Penelope, but Penny for short. Just like Penny Bunce in Carry On! I wanted to say so, but instead I told them they'd probably appreciate my cousin Molly's name for her unborn daughter due in April: Freya. They thought that was a great baby name...which it totally is.

When Tit and I got home, we put on a movie. Tit chose Capote because, he said, he heard Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was outstanding and won awards. (Indeed, Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for it in 2006.) He didn't know it would involve Harper Lee, who unfortunately passed away on February 19, 2016. He wasn't sure who Truman Capote was; he just saw Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time last year, and he didn't like it that much. He wasn't even aware that Capote was based on a true story.

But it is! The movie opens on a high school student going to visit her friend, only to discover that her friend has been gruesomely killed, shot to death in her bed. The unlucky friend was Nancy Clutter, murdered along with three members of her family on November 15, 1959. As portrayed in the movie, Truman Capote read a short article about the killings in newspaper, inspiring him to travel with his friend Nelle Harper Lee to the crime scene--Holcomb, Kansas--in search of material from which to write a magazine article about how the unsolved crime affected the small town.

Harper Lee is played by Catherine Keener, Interestingly, she seems to have some of the qualities of the adult Jean Louise Finch that I read about in Go Set a Watchman. She's very independent.

Capote's involvement quickly became much deeper. He covered reams of paper with notes taken while interviewing residents of Holcomb about the Clutter family. Then two men, recently paroled from the Kansas State Penitentiary, were arrested for the crime in Las Vegas and extradited back to Kansas. Capote personally interviewed both Richard (Dick) Hickok and Perry Smith, but he seemed to have a special fascination with Smith.

Their film counterparts are played by Mark Pellegrino and Clifton Collins, Jr.
You may remember Mark Pellegrino from such films as The Big Lebowski...
...or as Jacob on the U.S. television program Lost, or as Lucifer on Supernatural*. But since Capote was apparently more interested in talking to Perry Smith, Pellegrino's role in this film is limited. (He does look very sexy with vintage-style tattoos and a 1950s haircut, though.)

Indeed, a kind of love story seems to develop between Capote and Smith, and as a viewer I was pulled along with it. It's never explicit. Capote was, for all practical purposes though not for legal purposes, married to novelist and playwright Jack Dunphy (played by Bruce Greenwood). And clearly, Capote (at least as a film character) was deeply disturbed by the events he uncovered in Western Kansas.

Smith, in the movie, admits to having pulled the trigger and killed all four of the victims, and to slitting the father's throat. The movie doesn't romanticize or gloss over the horror of the crime. It does leave the viewer wondering if Capote had fallen in love with his subject and if those feelings were, in some way, returned. But it also seems as if Capote used Smith to complete his book, and that he felt guilty about this.

Perry Smith and Dick Hickok were executed by hanging in April 1965. The movie shows Capote being present as a witness at Smith's execution, but I'm not sure this is factual.

It took Truman Capote a total of six years to turn his experiences in Kansas into his "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood. After that, he would struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and he never completed another book (although Answered Prayers was published after his death in 1984, incomplete). The movie script seems to imply that he was so disturbed by his relationship with Smith and Hickok, he could never think or write the same way again.

Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't look very much like Truman Capote, and he certainly didn't sound like him in any of his other roles. For this movie, though, Hoffman was able to recreate Capote's distinctive voice and mannerisms. It's no wonder he won an Oscar. It's a stunning transformation.

I haven't read In Cold Blood, but I added it to my ever-growing TBR list. It does, after all, represent some of Harper Lee's life's work as well as Capote's. I respect them both.

And, of course, I'm sorry for the Clutter family's terrible loss. I'm sure the two surviving daughters, who were grown and out of the house at the time of murders, must have been devastated to lose their parents, sister, and brother all at once.

*Pellegrino also appeared in an episode of Person of Interest. It is noteworthy to mention that a POI cast regular, Sarah Shahi, will play Nancy Drew in an upcoming CBS television pilot. I never read a Nancy Drew book, but as a fan of Sameen Shaw, I added Shahi's face to a few classics.

Although I still have yet to finish Season 4 of Person of Interest, I've come to think of Sameen as an LGBT fictional character, since I already know Season 4 will reveal her not-just-friends relationship with Samantha "Root" Groves. Nancy Drew likes girls, right? Please say yes.

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