The ‘Capote’ film and ‘In Cold Blood’

I was interested to watch the film after finishing the book, and my interest was definitely rewarded.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘Best Actor’ Oscar was well deserved.  One of the first statements the Capote character makes in the film, after arriving in Kansas, is “I don’t care if they catch the killers or not.”  In a room full of the KBI investigators, this comment doesn’t go over particularly well.  For students wondering about objectivity, however, the character makes his point clear:  he is going to be a non-discriminatory observer.  At least until the killers are caught, and he develops a fascination with Perry Smith.

The inclusion of Harper Lee in the film was unexpected.  As I read In Cold Blood, I had no idea Capote was traveling with another author who helped him out periodically with community relations and research.  I had heard before they were friends, but wasn’t aware to what extent.  This omission pointed something out to me about the way Capote didn’t include himself, or Lee, in the book.  Until the end anyway, when I got the impression that Capote fabricated a character, who he just called “a reporter,” that was actually himself.  When Hickock talks to a reporter shortly before he is executed, the book leaves out what the film makes clear: the reporter was the author himself.

In the film, Capote goes to great lengths to keep the convicts alive, so that he can squeeze as much of the story out of them as possible before they are departed.  His hiring of an expensive lawyer to continue their appeals is left out of the book, but a crucial element of the film.  I’m not sure if that story arc is fact, or a false inclusion by Hollywood.  His ethics are further questionable when he bribes the warden to gain uninterrupted access to the prisoners.  So, to make up for these ethical lapses, the film version of Truman suffers from horrible guilt nearing the end of the story, worried sick that his hired lawyers will actually acquit the defendants and the murderers will go free.

Oddly, Capote’s injection of himself in the proceedings parallels the argument of the murderer’s appeals – that the jury in their trial was not objective, having been acquaintances of the Clutter family.  Was the verdict reached by the jury biased, because of their personal connections to the case?  Likewise, was Capote’s book fallible because of his influence on the events, omitted from the final copy?  In any event, both the book and the movie were highly enjoyable.

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