I’ve read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, seen the film adaptation, and now also seen two films about Capote’s writing of it. The murders of the Clutter family and the characters of the two murderers, Dick and Perry, have taken on a mythical hue.
But Infamous didn’t gel with me, and I think it’s because I was too annoyed by Capote’s character (‘a talking brussel sprout’, a character playing Gore Vidal calls him) and jolted by the unexpected mix of genres this film presents – mock documentary, comedy, drama, romance.
An interesting theme is Capote’s friend Harper Lee struggling with her writing. As she helps Capote collate facts on the murders, she is waiting for To Kill A Mockingbird to come out. But she’s already impatient, and wanting to get started on her second novel. The novel which was never written.
I was thinking of her, co-incidentally, on the weekend. I think about her often, and what it means when a writer of her evident talent and with all the time to write in the world never publishes another book. I struggle against seeing it as the worst thing that could happen to a writer. (Maybe as a writer, but not as a human being.)
Capote goes through something similar; you could take it different ways – he exploited the Perry and Dick or he was shattered by the experience of writing about them. Whatever the case, he never finished another full length work in the twenty odd years he was to live.
Just before the end, Sandra Bullock’s Harper Lee delivers these poignant words:
It’s true for writers too who hope to create something lasting. They die a little getting it right. And then the book comes out. And there’s a dinner, maybe they give you a prize and then comes the inevitable and very American question : ‘What’s next?’ But the next thing can be so hard because now you know what it demands.
The best scene in the film is the execution scene and it disturbed me deeply. There was the chaplain piously reading out Psalm 23, an agent of the state, as Dick and Perry are hung.
The prisoners are shown as deeply scared by their impending death. No bravery, they’re crying out and vulnerable. It makes it so much more horrific than the stoic macho hero going to his death.
There’s another scene I like a lot, where a local offers his opinion on the Clutter murders, in a soliloquy that sits somewhere between Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers:
I’ve always believed that whenever you do something right it gives you a little bit of weight, you come to feel rooted to this Earth, secure. What scares me is, well sometimes, I don’t know where, a bad wind blows up. Could be cancer, could be drink, could be some woman who don’t belong to you. And despite the weight holding you to the ground, when that wind comes, it picks you up light as a leaf, and takes you where it wants. We’re in control until we’re not. Then we’re helpless.