If only a handful knew much about Truman Capote, we might be acclaiming him as one of America’s literary giants on the strength of his breakthrough In Cold Blood. If that’s a bit over the top, then inarguably one of our most gifted stylists. But we know more about Truman than we ever wished we knew and it’s colored everything, and almost all of the coloring is blackish: Capote the midget fairy as a malicious gossip, as a drunk and drug addict, as a wasted talent. Before he became the N.Y. literati’s biggest little joke, he was its biggest little darling, sought out by minions as an example of chic liberalism, as every high society dame’s best gay chum. That he was a marvel of a wordsmith wasn’t beside the point, but that point was less appreciated than his acid flamboyance as party favor. Why two movies about him were made in a single year is a matter of superfluity, but Capote and Infamous are very decent, though maddening to interested viewers because they tell the same basics—how getting involved in the story of the murders and murderers of a Kansas family supposedly altered his life. Capote feels very consciously stripped of Truman’s more flagrant affectations, while Infamous indulges them; the former contains the Oscar-winning performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who’s got the voice down so perfectly that it’s all about breath control and as consequence we watch and listen to the actor too intently, and in the latter, Toby Jones looks like Truman and has his feminine squeakiness. The cautious Capote is based on Gerald Clarke’s bio, with actor Dan Futterman (son of Robin Williams in The Birdcage) penning the screenplay and Bennett Miller directing. Infamous, written and directed by Douglas McGath, has used George Plimpton’s collection of remembrances by some of Truman’s friends, acquaintances and enemies. Clarke’s is a well-documented read, yet it’s regrettably short of any real insights into the kind of relationship Truman had with The New Yorker’s esteemed editor William Shawn, who was anxious that Truman’s “sissy” persona, appearing incongruous to In Cold Blood, would be subjected to damaging ridicule. (Shawn’s prestige and gentility kept the New York Times, then always ready to have a go at an overt gay, caged for a while.) Nor does Clark write much about how Truman personally felt about Perry Smith, one of the murderers chillingly framed in what is regarded as the first and most celebrated of “nonfiction novels.” In Infamous, Shawn is so minimal as to be nonexistent, just as he is in Plimpton’s chatty conversations, but we get Daniel Craig’s Perry as a handsome manipulator of Truman. The script provides for a kiss that can’t be confirmed as ever having happened. This last instance counts more than we might otherwise think: Truman was accused in later life of falsifying facts, or punching them up with fantasy, and engaging in aggrandizement of his own sexual attraction. (And accused of lifting characters from other novelists as his own—the most persistent accusation was stealing Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles for Holly Golightly.) By image, the two movies superficially personify Truman and implicitly suggest that his notorious decline in becoming a living caricature of himself started in Kansas. Perhaps the fall started when Truman fell for the destructive victimization of needing to top himself in order to win the meaningless smooches from parasites he cavorted with; drenched in booze and drugs, he probably could no longer see that In Cold Blood is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2007 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.