Film Reviews

CAPOTE (William)

By • Feb 3rd, 2006 •

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Sony Pictures Classics
A United Artists, Sony Pictures Classics presentation of an A-Line Pictures, Cooper’s Town Productions, Infinity Media production

CAPOTE is an all-consuming drama because of Dan Futterman’s writing of the Capote character, the exquisite delineation of the personality of Capote as interpreted by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the meticulous direction of Bennett Miller.

Mr. Hoffman is Capote, not because of his mannerisms, but because he has his soul. It was said that Capote pursued glory, but always flirted with moral ruin. Hoffman understands this. Capote was a narcissist; his writing was the beginning of a love affair between Truman and himself. He was in love with his work, with himself, with his temperament and his own brilliance.

Capote had a good-natured quality in the beginning of his writing career. He lived in Brooklyn without fanfare. But, he had balls. He was gay in a macho society, and a southerner in New York. He went “where angels feared to tread.” He was, in fact, an angel who quickly became a devil, partly because of the world he chose, but mostly because of the alcohol he drank. The good-natured quality disappeared, and he lost his ability to write.

Mr. Hoffman said at the press conference, “He changed himself, manipulating people when he wanted something. He varied between vulnerability and manipulation. He had an incredible intuition. He wanted to leave something great behind, not by accident, but by decision.”

Hoffman continued, “Capote was always rolling the dice. He hit the Cutter story by accident. When he saw what he had, he would do anything to get the story. Capote wanted the truth. He would exploit life to get what he wanted. He had incredible strength. In the scene when Perry Smith won’t talk to him, he says, “This is my work, Perry. Let me know when you want to tell me what I want to hear.” For a short guy, he had a crushing weight.

The success he gained in the beginning was a reward for not feeling abandoned any more, first by his father and then by his mother. However, the alcohol allowed him to be abandoned again: the pernicious effects of drugs and alcohol ruined the intense discipline he possessed.

Running into Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock was a boon for Capote, but once he saw that he was capable of reneging on his promise to help them with their judicial appeals, he saw his true avaricious self. Although he had sympathy for Perry Smith, for, as he said, “We both grew up in the same house, except that I went out the front door and he went out the back,” he ignored them because he wanted to finish his book, thus insuring their deaths.

As Hoffman conveys this evil decision, Catherine Keener, who plays Harper Lee, conveys his kindness and his need for fame. However, as he brilliantly writes “In Cold Blood,” and changes the way others would write, he slowly becomes a monster to himself and others.

He ignores Harper Lee in a brilliant scene when her film of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is feted in the New York Public Library. We think it is just jealousy, but it is more than that. It is the paranoia (“they are torturing me”) that has arisen from his lack of action, and the effects of alcohol.

I talked to director Bennett Miller at the end of the screening at the New York Film Festival, and he agreed that this was a foreshadowing scene, projecting the unfortunate life that Truman Capote is about to endure.

Capote becomes a party giver and a partygoer. His “Black and White Ball,” given in honor of Katharine Graham at the Plaza hotel in 1966, is still a legend. Then he wrote a section of his novel, “Answered Prayers,” called “La Cote Basque 1965,” which would alienate all of the socialites who he had spent so much time cultivating. Many of his true friends had tried to save him after Jackie Onassis, Lee Radziwell, Babe Paley, and Happy Rockefeller shunned him, but it was too late.

If Harper Lee was Truman’s best girlfriend as a writer, Babe Paley became his best girlfriend as a high life socialite. The wife of William Paley, Chairman of CBS, who, if you have seen GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, was always working, so she had time on her hands.

He went onto television talk shows (a source of drama from which Phillip Seymour Hoffman was able to cull aspects of his personality, his way of walking, and his manner of speaking) and made a fool of himself. He is photographed on banquettes with Liza Minelli and Liz Taylor and Andy Warhol at Studio 54.

Lester Persky, producer of such films as SHAMPOO and HAIR, was one of those friends who tried to rejuvenate Capote by helping him to stay on the wagon. Lester wanted to buy “Hand Carved Coffins” Capote’s last work, for the screen. He also wanted him to do the screenplay, which would keep him away from the booze and the drugs.

Persky knew that I had worked at Esquire, and had helped to edit Truman’s articles. He also knew I had been on the discothèque scene, but had retired to Beekman Place to write and teach. Persky invited me to La Petite Marmite in the Beekman Hotel, which was in the neighborhood where Capote and I had both lived. I agreed to work on publicity for the film. Truman was agreeable to meet us.

After dinner, Capote invited Persky and myself to his apartment at 860 First Avenue on the 23rd floor. When we entered the apartment, Capote disappeared into the bathroom where he ingested cocaine, which he had laid out before going to the restaurant. Persky was furious at Truman’s betrayal and stormed out of the apartment. He left me sitting there with the coked-up Capote.

To amuse me, Capote walked over to his book shelves and pulled out a series of checks, one for five thousand dollars, one for three thousand dollars and one for seven thousand dollars. “All royalty checks’, he said. “Random House needs the money more than I do.” It was another plea for attention.

Somehow, I extricated myself from his need for attention, and thanked him for his hospitality. It is ironic that in the film, he asks William Shawn several times for advances so he can finish “In Cold Blood”, when fifteen years later, he doesn’t cash checks because he doesn’t need the money.

The last time I saw Truman Capote was St. John’s Bar at 49th and 1st. He came into the bar (it was about cocktail hour), and ordered a triple vodka. He gave the bartender $100, drank the vodka and left the restaurant. In a month, August 1984, he was dead at 59 years of age. I wish I could tell you I was reading another book of investigative journalism by Truman Capote today, but I can’t. He has been dead 21 years.

Footnote: The attention brought by this film has encouraged Random House to publish a recently discovered manuscript of a novel by Truman Capote, entitled “Summer’s Crossing,” which is set in the New York after World War II and tells the story of a young Fifth Avenue Socialite, Grady O’Neill, who has an affair with a Jewish war veteran who works as a parking attendant.

Truman Capote: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Nelle Harper Lee: Catherine Keener
Perry Smith: Clifton Collins Jr.
Alvin Dewey: Chris Cooper
Jack Dunphy: Bruce Greenwood
William Shawn: Bob Balaban
Dick Hickock: Mark Pellegrino

Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: Dan Futterman
Based on the book by: Gerald Clarke
Producers: Caroline Baron, William Vince, Michael Ohoven
Executive producers: Don Futterman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kerry Rock, Danny Rosett
Director of photography: Adam Kimmel
Production designer: Jess Gonchor
Costumes: Kasia Walicka-Maimone
Music: Mychael Danna
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen

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