Today is

   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Weekend at the movies

I saw Capote last Saturday. It was a very, very good film. The cinematography, the score (which my husband said reminded him of Arvo Part, for what it's worth), and the acting were uniformly excellent. Phillip Seymour Hoffman captures Capote's odd voice and manner without seeming merely to impersonate him, and he does it from his very first moment onscreen, in which Capote holds court at a Brooklyn salon and regales his acolytes with tales of his recent conversation with "Jimmy" Baldwin. It's crucial, actually, for Hoffman to draw the movie audience into this circle from the start -- to make us accept Capote as more than just a character he's "doing" particularly well, to make us like him and to want to like him even in spite of ourselves, because the audience will later have to draw on the reserves of good will Hoffman has built up in the film's first half hour.

The movie recounts the years during which Capote spent researching and writing In Cold Blood. The movie clearly intends to contrast the stark, open Kansas landscape in which the murders occur with the bunched-together Brooklyn brownstones, crowded with smoke and booze and witty people, of Capote's world. Aside from a scene in which he notices a Kansas man looking at his scarf and says "Bergdorf's" (to which the man drily responds by glancing down at his own scarf and saying, "Sears Roebuck"), Capote doesn't condescend to the Midwesterners he encounters. What he does do is both more ambiguous and more troubling. He woos them by letting them bask in the glow of his celebrity, and by offering them the illusion of emotional intimacy. He tells stories about himself -- about which it appears he feels some genuine emotion -- but he is always at the same time keenly aware of the instrumental value of his tales. He may like these people. He may understand them. He may even feel for them. But he is constantly on the lookout for ways in which he, and his craft, can profit by them. That dynamic manifests itself most clearly, and most disturbingly, in his relationship with the convicted murderers -- particularly with the artist manque Perry Smith, who fancies himself an unsung genius and views his "friendship" with Capote as a validation of his apparently grandiose self-image. Capote is clearly fascinated by Smith and even views him as a sort of shadow-self, but he also understands from the beginning what a "gold mine" Smith will be. He interacts with Smith as if he is already the "Perry Smith" of In Cold Blood, or as if there is no difference between the one and the other.

It's all very absorbing, and the movie suggests that Capote is finally confronted with the soul-destroying consequences of using other people, even cold-blooded killers, as means to an end, but the ambiguity that is inherent in Capote's encounters with the murderers occasionally veers off into a baffling opacity. There are moments, in other words, when the possible double and triple meanings of Capote's actions are almost defeated by our sense of the impossibility of fully discerning Capote's motives. Or maybe it's just that there are moments I don't really want to be ambiguous, like Capote's final "interview" with the killers. Is he feeling sorrow, remorse, ... relief? I suppose it's ironic that I'm uncomfortable with some of the ambiguity here, since one of my favorite movies -- which helped name this blog -- features one of the most ambiguous protagonists in moviedom. The difference, for me, is that I will more readily accept the ambiguity in the gangster genre, which is often a closed system in which gangster "ethics" needn't clash with other, more honorable, ethical codes. In any event, I wanted to see through Capote a little more clearly at the end.

Finally, while I found the parallels between Smith and Capote interesting, I didn't buy the suggestion that there was some moral equivalence between what Smith did and what Capote did. It's possible, though, that I'm misreading the movie in this instance. I'd like to see it again. And that's always a good sign.


Blogger stewdog said...

My mind is a baffling opacity.

Thanks for the review. It sounded far more interesting than the last two horrible movies that I suffered through, Meet the Fockers and Splanglish.

November 15, 2005 8:53 PM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Your mind is *always* a baffling opacity. :)

November 16, 2005 7:28 AM  

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