I'm not much for movies anymore. I rarely go, and when I do I rarely enjoy what I see. I thought "March of the Penguins," a documentary, was good and got a kick out of "Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit." (I've never seen such a smart dog).
But, mostly, I pass, thinking occasionally about going but rarely getting around to it.
So it's somewhat unusual for me to be writing favorably about "Capote," a movie I recently saw. While it's not exactly loads of fun, it was an interesting depiction of the late author Truman Capote's effort to produce the book "In Cold Blood," a mega-bestseller in the 1960s that was based on the shotgun murder in November 1959 of four members (father, mother, son and daughter) of the Herbert Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas.
Capote, a wispy fellow with a high-pitched voice that was a caricature of feminine homosexuality, hit the jackpot with "In Cold Blood," not only financially but critically because of the creation of a genre known alternatively as "New Journalism" or as a "non-fiction novel."
As far as journalism goes, there was less to it than met the eye because he apparently misrepresented all kinds of facts and invented parts of the book to make a better story. But that didn't become widely known until years later and is not what the movie is about.
"Capote" deals with how the author zealously pursued a story of mass murder in the heartland after reading about it in The New York Times, and it's an interesting depiction of the psychological toll it took on him.
Taking the movie at face value, the experience psychologically damaged the already fragile Capote to such an extent that he never wrote another book, drowned himself in alcohol and died a premature death after years of wallowing in shallow celebrity.
Not being overfamiliar with Capote's life story, I don't know if that's completely correct or not. But I do know that Capote became a celebrity icon, appearing numerous times on "The Tonight Show" couch to chat with Johnny Carson and that he had a reputation as a troubled alcoholic and prissy gossip. Of course, it is a matter of record that he never wrote another book, although he did produce short stories and magazine articles that didn't meet public expectation.
The Capote portrayed in the movies is a dogged reporter who, to get what he wanted, flattered celebrity-struck Kansans excited about having a well-known movie scriptwriter ("Beat the Devil") and novelist ("Breakfast at Tiffany's") in their midst. What he wanted was complete access to all the information police gathered in their investigation, interviews with witnesses, relatives and town residents and hundreds of hours of access to the killers, two sociopaths and petty criminals named Perry Lee Smith and Dick Hickock.
What's interesting is that, by the end of the movie, Capote is actually wishing for their execution so he can finish his book while at the same time dreading the deaths of two individuals, scum though they were, to whom he had become emotionally connected.
I can't imagine this movie having a big target audience. After all, this is an age of borderline illiteracy and movies driven by sound effects and shallow plot lines. How many people today ever heard of Truman Capote, read "In Cold Blood," know anything about so-called New Journalism or care about a murder case nearly 50 years old? Not nearly as many as will go see "King Kong."
But "Capote" was interesting and worth the time, at least for me.
For those who care to know more about it, journalism students at the University of Kansas went back to Holcomb, Kan., 40 years after the killings and the big stir over Capote's time there and produced an interesting series on the case, the book about the case and the man who wrote it. It was later published in The Lawrence Journal-World.