An Expat Life: Nicaragua Blues and Ruse

Monday, February 26, 2007

Managua Town Redux & Capote

Well, I may have been a little harsh in my last depiction of Managua Town, so I'll try to lighten up a bit. Tomorrow, we're off to another vaunted celebration of 4 year old Nica-dom. Brodie has yet another social engagement, this time with some fellow expats (I think they're Japanese...we'll see) Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes.

In other news, Kim and I finally watched Capote last night. Netflix served up a doozy with this one. For those of you not familiar with Truman Capote, I'll give a little background...

One of the great Southern writers of the latter 20th century, Truman Capote's life started with a bang, and ended with a fizzle. Capote is best known for three things: An eccentric high society gadfly and voyeur, the author of Breakfast At Tiffany's, and later, In Cold Blood, in essence creating the genre of fictional novel.

With the latter, Capote departs the glam, posh, glitz of black tie New York haute couture, and delves into a dark story of murder and mayhem on the remote Kansas plains. Late in 1959, two ex-cons, guided by inside info from the big house, travel to a remote Kansas farmhouse, to rob a wealthy farmer and his family. Instead, they end up murdering the family, and coming away with a measly $50 for their deed. Enter Capote, who, in passing, reads a 300 word snippet in the New York Times about the crime, has an epiphany....thus, he descends upon the devastated little hamlet, with childhood friend, fellow author, and sidekick, Harper Lee (author of the American canon classic, 'To Kill A Mockingbird').
This is where our film essentially begins. Capote is established on New York nightclub circuit, a big personality, well-read it's well known. He reads the othewise insignificant local story about brutal murder in faraway Kansas, decides in the moment, this is the story that he was meant to tell. So, upon arriving in quaint Holcomb, Capote and Lee map out their strategy of acquainting themselves with all of the characters, sifting through details of the personal lives, the crime scene, anchoring themselves to the human pulse of the story, storing away the details, real and imagined. Lee is particularly adept at opening doors, using a feminine comraderie that Capote is unable to least initially.

In time, Capote's character takes over, a born charmer. He once remarked, 'you are either a writer, or you aren't', alluding to his belief that college was a pointless endeavor for his profession. Telling a story was like an orange. An orange is an orange. There are no questions to be had about it. Stories are the same....if you still have questions after reading the story, or you think it could be told a different way, then, the story isn't very good. If, after reading the story, you are satisfied, and able to move on, then, that is a good story. College cannot teach that. Similarly, some people have charisma, others don't. You cannot teach it. Capote has charisma. In the end, his charm is his undoing, though not shown in the film, save a couple snippets in the closing moments.

He charms the stern sheriff, the sheriff's wife, his scorned lover back east, his editor, Harper Lee, and most importantly, Perry Smith, the trigger man for the grisly murders in Holcomb, Kansas. Perry and Truman end up having a lot in common, both are 'outsiders', a theme Capote uses to manipulate the violent, yet strangely vulnerable Smith. In fact, manipulation proves to be his most adept 'research' skill as a writer. He lies for lying's sake.

At any rate, the bulk of the movie concerns the bond which grows improbably between the two. As Capote's manipulation grows, so does an audience for his much awaited account of the events of that horrible Kansas day. Years drag on, Smith and the other killer, Dick Hickock (such a 'bad guy' name....I cannot imagine many upstanding 'Dick Hickocks' in the world) languish on death row, yet Capote still needs his knockout punch, to justify the Don King-esque zeal in which he has pre-sold his idea and book for his publisher and audience. The intensity and gravity of his deception culminates in the somber realization that Perry Smith will soon be executed. In the end, Capote gets his confession and meaty story of bloodlust, but he pays a price.

A completely changed man, Truman Capote would never write another novel. A truly good movie...dark, intelligent, and a stirring performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I give it 4 RRPs (Ramblin' Round Points) out of 5. Wish me luck on the Nica party... I may need the single malt scotch this go 'round.....

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