A Second Look

Truman Capote’s derivative 1966 Black and White Ball of celebrities at New York’s Plaza Hotel, not Le Bal Oriental, Count (“Charlie”) Beistegui’s masked ball for high society at the Palazzo Labia in Venice in 1951, has been labeled “The Party of the Century” in a 2007 book. This appellation might well have pleased Capote. A chronicler of the rich and famous, Capote was both a legendary Host and Guest. He was also an inveterate celebrity who acted out to gain and retain celebrity status.  At whatever cost (see photo above). However, the half-century passed since he lived and wrote has softened Capote’s public image. His dedication to being a Celebrity and Social Critic is being reduced to footnotes in critical biographies. 

Bold stacks of Capote’s new novel were piled theatrically in the display window of Kroch and Brentano’s bookstore under Chicago’s L tracks in 1966. That single blood spot on each dust jacket upon publication of his masterpiece best seller evoked the random Clutter family murders out on the bleak Kansas plains. Today, In Cold Blood (1967) remains as cruelly evocative on screen for its indifference to that vicious 1959 mass murder in rural Kansas.  Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1968, the stark black-and-white adaptation of In Cold Blood is a monument to the horror of indiscriminate violence. Capote’s autobiographical "A Christmas Memory,” “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, and “Among the Paths to Eden” are all holiday fiction adapted for television. The productions earned positive reviews, prestigious awards, and seasonal reruns. Now available on DVD, Capote’s holiday movies have become bona-fide seasonal classics. 

Novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Capote’s most recognized work. Capote was not a fan of casting Audrey Hepburn in the movie. Moreover, Holly Golightly’s cinematic rescue of Cat in a rainy alley and Audrey Hepburn’s wistful singing of Oscar-winning “Moon River” on her fire escape usurped and have far outlived Capote’s African effigy of his heroine in prose. The 1961 film adaptation that won two of the five Oscars for which it was nominated—not Capote’s novella—guaranteed Breakfast At Tiffany’s fame. Thank you, Audrey Hepburn, George Axelrod, Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards, Audrey Hepburn, Henry Mancini, Audrey Hepburn, and Hubert de Givenchy. 

Most significantly, in addition to frequent and successful screen adaptations of his works, author Truman Capote has also twice been the subject of a biographical movie. The pair of biographies was released in cinematic tandem. Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the author in the first film biography, Capote (2005).  The film’s five 2006 Academy Award nominations include Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actress—a nod to Catherine Keener’s portrayal of Capote’s lifetime friend, To Kill a Mockingbird’s author Harper Lee. When Capote set his sights on writing about the Clutter murder, he summoned his Depression-era aesthetic, research tenacity, and formidable writing talents to write In Cold Blood challenging creative demands and trampling moral reservations.  

In Venice Film Festival, Independent Spirit, and London Critics Award nominee, Infamous (2006), when Capote’s superficial involvement among New York’s café society plays out on screen, Capote is drawn to his fascination with Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) who burns up the screen as the Clutter murderer who becomes Capote’s In Cold Blood character.

Creativity—not last century’s arcane Beautiful People—are at the center of both Capote bio-movies. Both biographies focus on the author’s process of writing. These cinematic renderings illuminate an artist confronting our indifferent world to pose unanswerable questions. As we follow Capote crafting his “wicked” masterpiece on screen in either movie, we marvel at the Artist making Art out of the horror of inexcusable historical events.  Capote's indifference to misery and his determination to be a celebrity at all cost are now more accepted by an amoral 21st Century audience. Consequently, as both source novelist and as movie subject (twice), Truman Capote may well be the American author best served by the movies.