I have a copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye on my book shelf. I don’t have many books on my shelf but of the few that are there Salinger’s work is the book I take most pride in. It didn’t change my life, it didn’t affect me in any significant way (I’ve had no Mark David Chapman experiences) and I haven’t even re-read it. It’s just a book that has stuck with me since that first and only read and one that has been strengthened as a master work because of the reclusiveness of its author.
Together with its author, Catcher in the Rye is shrouded in a deep speculative history that I find fascinating and that has often left me wondering, “I wonder what it was like being an author during that period of history?” For me, the history around the novel is almost as fascinating as the novel itself. This is possibly one of the reasons I enjoyed Capote as much as I did.
Capote tells the biographical story of Breakfast at Tiffany’s author Truman Garcia Capote and the process he follows as he conceives and sets out to write his greatest non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood.
In 1959, while paging through the New York Times, Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes across an article describing the gruesome murders of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. Fascinated by the events he sets out with fellow author Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to research and interview the people from the small community of Halcomb. As the process drags out, however, and Capote develops a deep compassion for one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), he finds it increasingly difficult to come to terms with the fact that in order to finish the book he will have to lose a close friend.
Capote is a slow moving piece of drama that didn’t really impress me to begin with but as the events within it began to unfold I found myself being drawn into the world of the flamboyant author. It’s a film that allowed me access into the realm of the master author (as a collective) for 114 minutes and one which gave me permission to see their world and become a part of it. To experience the world of Salinger; filled with formal-dress parties, cigarette smoke, alcohol and gossip. I guess, subconsciously, I must have aspirations to be a great novelist.
As an author, and character, Capote is the antithesis of what I imagine, and have read, Salinger to be. Outspoken and at times over the top, and speaking with a contained high-pitched voice (he sounds like his testes are stuck in a bench clamp), Hoffman’s performance begins rather comically (we see him at a party). But as the film progresses this sense of fun is stripped away as his dark, manipulative side and his internal struggle with finishing his novel is brought to the surface. Philip Seymour Hoffman deserves every bit of his Oscar for Best Actor. His voice, much in the same way Felicity Huffman used her’s in Transamerica, plays a major role in his transformation and the performance is a progressive one that only gets stronger as the story develops.
This film has gay characters in it (Capote was gay) but their representation is not depicted as you might have come to expect from smaller, independent films such as this. There is an ambiguity to these representations because there is no physical expression from the gay characters. No hugs, holding hands or even a kiss. The only way we know for sure that Capote is gay is because he vacations with another male author who is also his non-exclusive boyfriend. But, even this required a fair amount of deduction from my side.
Where Brokeback Mountain used its gay themes as a selling point, Capote doesn’t. This struck me as being quite strange, but the platonic relationships do work to the benefit of the characters and the relationship between Capote and Perry Smith in particular. I thoroughly enjoyed Capote because it investigated the writing of Truman Capote’s greatest work in an intelligent and emotional manner that grew on me as the film unfolded.