Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
Capote and Loggerheads
EXPANDED EDITION OF 10-19-05 Knight at the Movies/Windy City Times column
by Richard Knight, Jr.
One Sunday in the fall of 1959, writer Truman Capote read a short news story in the New York Times about the
killing of four members of a well to do Kansas farming family. Something clicked inside his head and he reached
for the phone to dial William Shawn his New Yorker magazine editor to tell him that he had found something that
he wanted to write about. Thus began an emotionally complex journey that was both torturous and exhilarating for
the diminutive gay southern writer.
Capote, the movie that follows the process, is just as complex and steeped in detail – and at its center is the
note perfect performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the title role. Hoffman’s breathtaking feat, stunning
though it is, is not unexpected – has there yet been a role that this amazing actor has not brought off with
spectacular results? The surprise is the assured direction of Bennett Miller and the richly detailed script by Dan
Futterman, both making their feature debuts. The three – friends since their college days – have collaborated on
what is easily one of the best films of the year.
Our first glimpse of Capote is – appropriately enough – at a cocktail party tossing off a quip and nursing a drink.
Next we watch him the next day reading the newspaper account and without hesitation phoning Shawn (Bob
Balaban). What about the gun shot killings of Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, son Kenyon and daughter Nancy struck
such a deep chord within Capote? The movie tells us that the answer, of course, is that he just knew, that way that
all great artists know, that this was something that had his initials on it.
But what Capote didn’t know was that within the discovery of his great writer’s find – what in fact was to become
the literary sensation of the 1960s, “In Cold Blood” – lay the seeds of his own personal and artistic devastation.
But we know it and it informs each scene of the movie as it follows Capote jumping feet first into the fire to get the
story. Even now, it’s not hard to imagine the sensation the openly gay pint-sized child-man spewing Dorothy
Parker-isms in his southern accented high pitched twang must have had upon the literary scene with his 1948
debut novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” By 1959 Capote had had a decade of equal parts derisive astonishment
and abject flattery.
As he headed to Kansas he was emotionally armed but being nobody’s fool, Capote took along Harper “Nelle” Lee,
his fellow southern writer to help smooth the suspicion he knew he would encounter. Catherine Keener, who has
specialized in playing cynical bitches, matches every Hoffman affectation with steely, guarded assurance. It’s the
quiet eye to Hoffman’s storm. Eventually, of course, the two win over the townspeople and the flinty, intractable
lead investigator, Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper in yet another of his rigid performances – the movie’s only false step
– and that because we’ve seen this in every Cooper performance since American Beauty).
When the two killers are captured and put on trial Truman immediately finds a rapport with one of them – Perry
Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.). As the movie tells it, the two sized each other up from the moment of first contact and
each recognized something in the other. “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house and one day he stood up
and went out the back door and I went out the front,” Capote later comments. In order to finish his book, what he
terms a “nonfiction novel,” Capote needed the cooperation of the killers and the movie makes it plain that by
helping with their defense and softening up Smith with art supplies and other niceties, he got it.
The transitory trust that exists between interviewer and subject is explored and the movie plainly shows us that
Capote the journalist wasn’t above using his subjects at will. When things turn ugly he lies in order to get what he
needs out of Smith and vice versa (it’s inherent in the interview process to begin with). At one point, after a
triumphant reading at a New York auditorium of early portions of “In Cold Blood,” he flatly denies to Smith that
he's come up with a title for his book. While the convicted murderers go through their appeals process, Capote
disappears to Europe with his supportive yet emotionally distant lover, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) to finish
his book, ignoring Smith’s letters.
But as the movie reminds us, Capote needed an ending for his book that could only come with the execution of the
killers. The emotional toll on the writer, already beginning a decline into alcoholism, becomes excruciating. The
movie includes a scene in which his narcissistic pouting even spoils the successful premiere of the movie made
from Lee’s only novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Finally, after witnessing the hanging of Smith, a bereft Capote calls
the guarded Lee who quietly tells him in so many words that he knew the emotional risks from day one and would
have to suffer the consequences (boy, did he ever).
The movie implies that Smith on a certain level also knew what Capote was up to: “I could kill you if you got too
close,” he whispers sexily through the bars to a breathless Truman upon their first contact. Truman was drawn to
rough trade and in Perry Smith he found the pinnacle of that particular bent. The movie doesn’t hint at what many
other sources have – that Truman and Perry were lovers while Smith was incarcerated, but it doesn’t have, too.
It's plain that Capote can’t help being drawn back to the edge of the fire against his own will.
Appropriately, Capote is filmed in somber shades of brown, dark blue and gray and has one of those in vogue,
beautiful but chilly Thomas Newman American Beauty-like piano scores by Michael Danna emphasizing the unsaid
internal dramas of the characters. Though the film contrasts Capote’s sophisticated lifestyle with that of the white
trash killers and their small town, Midwestern victims, it’s a very closed in movie that subconsciously shows ALL
the characters imprisoned in some fashion. Credit for that goes to director Miller (who has worked as a
cinematographer) and his close collaborator, Dan Futterman, the actor perhaps best known for playing Will
Truman's boyfriend on “Will & Grace,” who has based his script on the excellent Capote biography by Gerald
Hoffman’s beautifully sustained performance – which quickly shoots past the easily imitated Capote mannerisms –
is one of his richest in a gallery that includes memorable turns playing gay in Boogie Nights and Flawless, the rich
playboy in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the little seen but haunted widower in Love Liza. Capote, a movie about
the creation of its subject’s greatest work is, rightfully, going to win Hoffman and company a raft of prizes. Hard to
believe but this is something Capote himself was denied. Almost 40 years after the debut of “In Cold Blood,” the
irascible writer would surely feel justification and delight at the bouquets of praise that will greet this movie.
Perry Smith and the Clutters, harder to say.
Loggerheads, which plays for one week at Chicago's Landmark Century Centre Cinema, is the perfect example
of a perfect “little movie.” Shot in shades of green, blue and yellow the movie crisscrosses between three
separate stories of characters at critical junctures in their lives in three different years. Beginning in 1999, we
follow Mark (Kip Pardue), a young, blonde, handsome drifter, who has arrived on the North Carolina coast to try to
help save the loggerhead turtles who return where they were born to lay their eggs. He begins a tentative
romance with the dark haired motel owner George (Michael Kelly) who discovers him asleep on the beach while
A year later we find that Elizabeth (Tess Harper), the wife of a strict preacher (Chris Sarandon) is haunted by the
fact that her adopted gay son has run away from their conservative home. Finally, in 2001, we meet Grace
(Bonnie Hunt) who is living with her mother (Michael Learned) because she is so haunted by the son that she gave
up as a teenager that she’s tried to commit suicide and is slowly recovering.
Naturally, Mark is the linchpin for all three stories which slowly entwine as the film progresses. There’s not a false
moment in this poignant movie that is filled with complex characters (though the turtle metaphor is a touch
forced). Gay writer-director Tim Kirkman is rewarded by his uniformly excellent cast while Harper and Hunt as
the adoptive and birth mothers, respectively, are standouts. These are parts that actors dream about and Kirkman
(who previously directed a documentary about Jesse Helms and David Drake’s The Night Larry Kramer Kissed
Me) has given the audience something that WE dream about, too – one of those perfectly little miraculous
cinematic experiences that are far and few between. www.landmarktheatres.com
Website of note: The complete lineup of this year’s films for Reeling 2005: The 24th Chicago Lesbian and
Gay International Film Festival are now online. The site also lists the special events and a new membership
program for the fest. Tickets for the fest go on sale October 22nd. www.reelingfilmfestival.org
Miller's Debut Masterpiece, Kirkman's Superior Sophomore Effort: a great week for "gay" movies