Film "CAPOTE"(2005 Directed by Bennett Miller) Faithfully Research Paper

Pages: 6 (2000 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Film

¶ … film "Capote"(2005 Directed by Bennett Miller) faithfully represent the historical event? Does the movie

If one is looking for the truth, it is best to avoid movies. Such a statement particularly applies to Hollywood, major motion pictures. Documentaries, made at the independent level without mainstream actors, huge budgets, and aspirations to make millions of dollars and win awards for its personnel, are generally the only acceptable films that attempt to portray historical events accurately. Even then, in most cases, they tend to contain some element of bias. Therefore, the probability of extracting the truth of the historical events depicted within Bennett Miller's 2005 film Capote, which was nominated for an academy award and won the principle actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Oscar for best actor (Leopold) is minute, at best. Such major motion pictures are designed to suit a variety of purposes spanning common propaganda to more base forms of distractions -- such as entertainment. Not surprisingly, there is a great degree of hyperbole in this film, which is more concerned with creating a compelling narrative than accurately portraying historical events.

In ways large and small, Capote is at variance with the events it depicts which primarily revolve around Truman Capote's attempts to write what is termed a "nonfiction novel" (Steiner) about the murder of an entire family in the sleepy town of Holcomb, Kansas. The very subject matter is dubious at best -- Capote's actual enterprise that began in 1959 involved recreating (at novel length) the murder of a family for reasons that were never definitely known. To that end, even the book he initially created, in Cold Blood, merges purported fact with fictive details such as thoughts and emotions of characters who were long dead before Capote could ever effectively 'research' them. To the film's credit, however, it is decidedly less concerned with reconstructing the accurate facts of the murder than it is with detailing the writer's process for scripting his novel. Yet even an examination of this principle focus of the movie demonstrates that the filmmakers -- writer Dan Futterman and Miller -- took great liberties in portraying this part of the story.

Relatively minor details, such as the fact that Capote was actually a minuscule man, were grossly exaggerated in the film. Capote only stood 5 feet three inches (Blake), yet the actor who played him was nearly 5 feet 10 inches. The following quotation alludes to the film's penchant for extending the truth to manipulate such discrepancies.

Hoffman lost 20 pounds for the role and adopted "a bounciness Phil does not have," says Miller. To make the almost 5-foot-10 actor appear smaller, he was dressed in tight-shouldered suits, surrounded by larger actors and shot from certain angles -- all traditional, but well-used, film tricks (Leopold).

More significantly than the fabrication of physical differences between the characterization of Capote in the film and in real life are the psychological motivations that the film purports galvanized the writer while researching and later writing in Cold Blood. Essentially, the central conflict in the movie is the conflicting duties between Capote's moral responsibility and those towards his profession, career and livelihood. While researching this work the movie portrays him as developing fairly intimate (if not even outright homosexual) relationships with a number of the key characters. The writer sequentially becomes enamored with Kansa City Sherriff Alvin Dewey as well as one of the suspects picked up for murder, Perry Smith. The conflicting interests between the lawman attempting to punish the murderers, the empathy and sympathy for one of the murders who endured a harsh childhood (much like Capote himself), and the priority of the greedy writer to capitalize on sensationalizing both of these stores is given considerable attention in the movie. However, there are a number of sources and facts that dispute some of the scenes in which this conflict manifests itself.

The crux of the movie is that Capote shamelessly manipulated both law enforcement and the criminals on trial in order to get better fodder for his book. Such a story, on film, is certainly a compelling one: a journalist/novelist ultimately sells his own soul to create the best story possible for his own gain while using everyone he encounters. The following quotation certainly portrays this main facet of Capote:

Hoffman provides a scalpel-clean dissection of Capote's needy deviousness, as he uses everyone and everything to his own ends. In the dichotomy between Capote's feelings for Smith (only hinted at in 1968) and his knowledge that Smith must die for his book to be published, the actor bares the writer's tortured soul (Blake).

The film even ends with an allusion to the fact that in Cold Blood was Capote's last successful book, and that his health and spirit rapidly deteriorated due to his immoral means of achieving such success (Gibbons). While these facts may be true, Capote took great pains to portray such moral degeneration in ways that were partisan -- and in some instances outright fictional.

Predicated on the fact that the writer is willing to do whatever it takes to sell a triumphant masterpiece which must necessarily terminate with the vanquishing of the criminals by hanging, Capote grossly exaggerates certain facets of Capote's behavior and sentiments. An excellent example of this fact is found in the scenes in which the author proclaims to hire attorneys for both of the criminals, Smith and Hickock, in order to fight their appeals. Such a move is justified on the part of Capote because the pair has not outlived their usefulness for him yet -- meaning they have yet to confess or to humanize their monstrous actions so the writer can pen and sell them. The veracity of Capote's largess, in this instance, may be wholly inaccurate. It is a well-known fact the film is based on Gerald Clarke's biography of the writer, entitled Capote. Yet there is no mentioning of the novelist attempting to procure legal counsel for Smith and Hickock in the biography. In fact, there is a substantial amount of evidence that indicates legal counsel for the pair was handled conventionally by state litigation. According to a writer who closely followed such facets of Capote's research, "Duane West, the county prosecutor at the time," explained that "the initial appeal was handled by attorneys appointed and paid for by the state of Kansas. Subsequent appeals were taken up by members of the Kansas Legal Aid Society of the state bar association…a fact mentioned in Cold Blood itself" (Gibbons).

What is significant about this quotation is that with a number of different written sources providing documentation about the truthfulness of events that were crucial to the research of Capote, the makers of the film chose to invent measures that exaggerated the extent to which the author went to in order to secure his story. Unfortunately, such a wanton distortion of history is not uncommon in this particular film. Another fact that the filmmakers manipulate to suit their morality story and to corroborate the fact that Capote essentially sold his soul to write in Cold Blood is related to his attempt to access both of the inmates while they are on death row. In the movie version, the author dramatically hands a hefty $10,000 payment to a Warden Krutch who, in a move that is seemingly as immoral as that initially proffered by Capote, accepts the sum in order to allow him to continue to visit the inmates prior to the time before they are executed. Such an illegal transaction is succinct and great for the cameras -- it renders Capote as both desperate and dissolute, and implies that the system prosecuting the two criminals is as well. In reality, however, those events were less dramatic -- if no less effective. The corruption attributed to the warden was well exaggerated; in reality the warden who denied Capote death row access was merely abiding by his position of not allowing those outside of family members to interact with death row inmates. There is evidence that suggests that the warden was an upstanding individual who persevered in his position (and in following his job's guidelines) despite being afflicted with a terminal illness (Gibbons). Any degree of debauchery that resulted in Capote's interactions with Smith and Hickock was again on the part of the state, as the following quotation implies. The writer got around legislation preventing him from seeing the pair when he "retained the well-connected law firm of Saffels & Hope, who, at Capote's request, approached the governor of the state and worked out a deal…while…money changed hands, there's no evidence that it went to the warden" (Gibbons).

It is crucial to note the reason why the filmmakers chose to vary from the actual historical events regarding Capote's means of visiting the two inmates on death row: it makes for compelling film, and reinforces the notion that he was willing to do whatever it took to complete his book. Again, this sentiment may have been prevalent within the author, but… [END OF PREVIEW]

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