Vol.23 No.111

Friday 28 July 2006    
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Opinion/Letters
I'm not really that controversial

BACKSTAGE
SASA MAJUMA

7/28/2006 6:24:19 PM (GMT +2)

"Capote" (2005) may be coming soon to the New Capitol Cinemas and is available on DVD. It was one of the best films of 2005. It was released in September 2005 and the DVD on 21 March 2006. Between the two it has grossed in North America so far over P300 million.


The story of Truman Capote (a.k.a Truman Strekfus Persons), the great American writer, novelist, and his endeavours to create the first "non-fiction novel", which was published as "In Cold Blood" (1966, the movie came out in 1967), is both a fascinating and upsetting film. Truman Capote was not a pleasant man (acted with unusual flair by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who captures Truman's mannerisms and way of speaking perfectly, and who was awarded an Oscar as Best Actor, 2006).

Truman loved being the centre of attention and knew how to hold an audience. The story of the prolonged agony involved in writing is also not the normal content of a good movie, but director Bennett Miller and scriptwriter Dan Futterman manage to pull it off (using Gerald Clarke's 1988 biography of Capote - he died from alcoholism at sixty in 1984). Truman, who was born in New Orleans on 30 September 1924, was in a state of limbo on November 15, 1959, when he read about the murders in Kansas and decided to change his life most dramatically. He was a young man of 35, basking in the success of his short story, "Shut a final door" (1946), his first novel, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" (1948), "House of Flowers" (a musical in 1954), and most recently, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1958, not yet made into a movie).

When he read about the murder of a family of four on a remote farm in Holcomb, Kansas, he asked The New Yorker Magazine to sponsor him on what came to absorb him over the next six years - the exploration of a new form of writing. Truman took with him from New York City to Kansas, before Christmas, yet still during the bitter cold of winter, his childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (acted extremely well by Catherine Keener), as his assistant. He had near total recall, both visual and of conversations - "tested and came to 94 percent" - but he needed her to help ease his way into people's homes. Harper Lee had just completed her first and only novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird", was waiting for it to be published, and was willing to join Truman at the spur of the moment.

Most of the movie explores Truman's relationship with the two murderers, particularly the more intelligent and brooding one, Perry Smith (acted by Clifton Collins Junior), who tried to starve himself to death in prison (there is very little on the other murderer, Dick Hickock). A mutual attraction develops between writer and killer. To get their story Truman arranges for them to have trial lawyers; they win appeals a number of times, which tend to drag out events. Both Perry and Hitchcock, refrain from telling Truman what really happened in the isolated farmhouse when they brutally executed a father, mother and their two children.

Truman needs to know to be able to complete his book. Worse, he requires closure to finish his opus, and this means their execution. He acts to prolong their lives while wanting them murdered by the State in retaliation for the crime they have committed. Truman makes many trips from his home in Brooklyn Heights, in New York City, to Kansas, and to Leavenworth Prison (actually filmed in Manitoba, Canada).

He greases his way both with authorities, their wives and the prisoners by giving them autographed copies of his first novels with carefully written dedications designed to win their support. Truman was a masterful manipulator. Truman finds the long spells away also complicate his relationship with Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) another writer with whom he lives.

When Jack goes to Spain, Truman eventually joins him, but things are tense. Truman is self-centred and absorbed. To try to get what he wants from the prisoners he has to trick them, but at certain points Perry sees through Truman's deceptions. Truman uses his similar childhood to open ways with Perry. In Truman's past there was an absence of closeness, and he suffered from his Southern mother who locked him in hotel rooms while she chased men.

Harper Lee's novel is made into a successful movie with Gary Grant in the lead, but Truman ignores this and her, he is so possessed by his absorption in Perry and Hitchcock and his delayed opus. Did she become America's most famous literary recluse because of what Capote did to her? What actually happened at the Cutter home on November 14, 1959? There two worlds-that of normal society and the "underbody", meet.

Who benefited from the murders that "earned" them P275? The movie capture's Truman's recognition of exceptionality and greatness-but there was a price, his pain and suffering, his deep depression, and in the end his own death. This is not a film to be missed. Send us your comments about Mmegi newspaper Search For Old Newspaper Editions To advertise contact us through email

 
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