In Cold Manipulation

The award for the most self-centred, arrogant **** (I realise there are numerous four letter insults out there, so feel free to insert as you feel appropriate) must certainly go to Truman Capote. I suppose we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but, having watched Capote (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) the other night, I was really repulsed by the picture that was built of this legendary writer.

Photo: Irving Penn

I read In Cold Blood almost ten years ago, randomly picking it off the library shelves without being fully aware of who Capote was and that this specific title is considered to be one of the American Greats. I just thought the story was quite interesting and was going through a ‘criminal minds’ phase. I should probably clarify that my mid teenage years were not spent devouring Great Novels and philosophising about the morals associated with obtaining a Subject for one’s next work of literature over a glass of red. I drank coke and watched The OC all day (Seth and Summer 4eva, haha).

With hindsight, this show really was a pile of sh*t

I’m sure you all know the story surrounding In Cold Blood so I’m not going to dwell on that, except to say that Capote chose to write a non-fiction novel based on the murder of a family in a small Kansas town. He soon developed a relationship with the two murderers  (Perry Smith and Richard Hickock) once they were caught ( I, personally, don’t believe all that nonsense about Capote having a romantic/sexual relationship with Perry), and proceeded to plow them for information so that he could write his book. The book was not completed until after the killers had been executed; their death necessary for a tidy finish to a book that took years of research to complete.

Is the sacrifice of a human life required for the next Great American Novel to be written? I mean, how far can writers be allowed to go in order to produce good work? I’m probably being a little overdramatic, but when someone’s death is required for you to satisfactorily complete your novel, then surely something is not quite right. To allow these people to trust you and then swiftly deceive them, purely as a means to your own end, does not sit right with me. But where do writers go for story ideas these days? (We know journalists in the UK hack phones, haha).

The killers were indeed killers, there’s no mistaking this, so should I be overly concerned about their well-being or the way in which they were treated when they obviously had little concern for the well-being of the Clutter family when they murdered them?

The years surrounding In Cold Blood were arguably the most important in Capote’s life. It’s difficult to determine what led to his alcoholism and eventual demise. Why was In Cold Blood the last piece of good work he produced?

Ultimately, I appreciate that Capote is indeed a film, that there’s obviously creative licence and it makes for a better film if he’s portrayed as an a**hole. I haven’t carried out extensive research to establish what is true and what isn’t, but what I did find was not conclusive. I did, however,  find this interesting interview with The New York Times where Capote talks about his writing process, how he defined a new genre, and how amazing he generally is. He will probably always be a mysterious character and will be talked about for years to come. I just needed to vent because that film just made me so angry, but the truth will hopefully be clarified one day so I can determine whether he really was either the unintrusive author or the manipulative opportunist. Or both.


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One response

  1. Being of the age of the Carson/Cavett viewer demographic, and having seen Capote on both, I believe his persona overshadowed his work. As the years passed, I saw him more as an entertaining talk show guest, and less as a writer. That’s probably what did him in. I think the same happened to Andy Warhol where his persona overshadowed his art. Perhaps it was society patting itself on the back for celebrating openly gay artists — a no-no in the pre-60s’ era. Just a thought.

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