Admittedly, I’m way behind when it comes to seeing movies. Everyone and their mother has seen Juno and yet, I spend my days at my computer chasing after a ghost.
But this weekend I watched Capote and was pulled into the story of a writer who falls into the trap of his own hubris. As Truman Capote, Phillip Seymour Hoffman proves to be one of the most fascinating actor of our time because he completely disappears into the skin of a careless, roue who stands in the limelight of New York’s literati of the 1950’s. But when he travels to Holcomb, Kansas to write about the murder of a family, Truman becomes the outsider looking in; the intruder who pursues fame in the guise of truth.
When I was reporting for the Coastline Pilot and now when I do research, I’m reminded that as writers, we are always the outsider observers taking notes and stealing what people do or say for our books. There’s a scene early in Capote when Truman walks into the funeral parlor where the family lay in their closed coffins. (All except for the husband, the family were shot at close range in the head.) He slowly approaches one of them and as quietly as he can, he lifts the lid to peek inside. As I watched that scene, I couldn’t help but lean forward, eager to see what he would see. It’s so typical of a writer to look inside, even at the blood and guts stuff to satisfy our quest for authenticity.
But what really made this film stick in my head was how Truman does everything he can (bribe, manipulate, prevaricate and outright lie) to get one of the convicted murderers, Perry Smith, to tell him exactly what happened on the night of the murders. He wasn’t acting in a noble effort to bring a killer to justice, or free an innocent man; Truman did everything he could for the benefit of his book.
This film made me think about the lengths we writers will go to for those gold nuggets that make our stories. It made me think about the perilous line we walk at being active participants in life, and observing it.