Sunday, July 9, 2017

Allegations of downfall, revisited

Bennett Miller's an intelligent
and I'd go so far as to say, a
charismatic director of motion
pictures; a craftsman as gifted
in eliciting superior acting as
he is in bringing strict discip-
line to script and art direction.
We are not going to see a movie
by Bennett Miller that he didn't
want. Why, I ask myself, given
that he wants only to make films
exploring a distinct moral ques-
tion, do his questions expire?

It's telling, that the inspira-
tion to develop a movie around
the gruesomely corrupt philan-
thropies of John du Pont, for
which he won the Director's
prize at Cannes, was literal-
ly handed to him by a stranger,
as a set of press clippings on
the story. Indeed, one could
count on Miller to wrap up all
the gossip in an orderly way.

And it's for his taking on the
"downfall" narrative of Truman
Capote, in 2005, that this re-
liance of strangers is so under-
standable. I have been troubled
by the simplifications of that
movie, in the mildest kind of
uneasy way, ever since I first
watched it, more than a decade
ago. But, with Truman Capote's
personal life, never forgetting
that this was his creative car-
eer, one has grown used to be-
ing reconciled to a WWD stand-
ard of perception. "He asked
for it," the jurors say; which
is no more than to confess, to 
no one's surprise, the jury is 

Of Bennett Miller, his trust-
ed high school writer friend, 
and Philip Seymour Hoffman, 
this is simply not the answer. 
Is the answer to this prefer-
ence, the demands and incen-
tives of drama? Miller intim-
ates, it is, in marketing in- 
terviews packaged by Sony with
their dvd. With Gerald Clarke, 
the biographer he rides in on, 
Miller depicts the struggles of
writing In Cold Blood literally
as a descent into tragedy, which
is defined as Capote's failure
to complete another major work,
amidst a déluge of pills and li-
quor. The stunning thud of tab-
loid subtlety engulfs our lesson.

 Only the other day, I presented
 an excerpt from a novel Capote
 never submitted for publication,
 coinciding simply with the temp-
 tation incurable in many readers,
 to see the language exercised by
 an authentic artist. I did not 
 cite anything from the most mov-
 ing element in the story, the
 characters' keen responsiveness
 to anyone who cares for them, 
 because for that to have been
 germane, I'd have had to be less
 flippant; and few of us can be
 sure we possess that other voice.
 This, about Capote, Miller and his
 team conveyed extremely well, be-
 fore turning it against him.

Now we are embarked upon an
age of Augustan understand- 
ing, where addictions grip- 
ping whole tranches, say, of
our new government's wounded
base, are wisely understood 
as pertaining to ailment, a-
part from volition. We still
understand tragedy, in other
words, as a catastrophe trig-
gered by something Capote of-
fered the gossips in spades -
the spectacle of misconduct,
invoking the will in all its
immaculateness. This is the 
card the Greeks never knew,
of Puritanism.

To play this hand, Miller
is a meticulous scavenger of
anecdotes drawn from Capote's
personal life, as if they did
substantiate the charge this
screenplay brings down as an
axe - ambition.

The cliché of the precocious
American writer, brought low-
er by his later work, than his
first things seemed to promise,
is slightly repulsive to mine
for money at the cinema, much
less for capturing the figure
more as he was, than he was,
himself - the accolade heaped
upon the ingenious Mr Hoffman,
who renounced it bitterly. It
ought to dawn upon these mer-
chants, that their pattern be-
trays them. We could cite Or-
son Welles, to pluck a figure
from their field from thin
air, for the proposition that
making it in America lends a
layer of complexity to sustain-
ing it, that figures from James
to Eliot to Baldwin evaded, for
good reason. Truman Capote, how-
ever, did not run. He burrowed,
he suffered, and he triumphed.

What the movie casually dis-
dains, Henry James literally
dreaded in himself, as the ar-
tist's intemperate invasion of
his characters. By accident he
was always aware of, but of a
magnitude outside his control,
Capote reached his literary
destiny in personalities en-
countered almost magnetically;
and almost as his invented
child on her birthday, Miss
Bobbit, he met a kind of end.

There is more to say on this
subject, not because the movie
compels it, but because to ac-
cept its argument is to condemn
literature, and history, in fa-
vor of an abusive invention of
folly, a straw man to condemn.
His literature rebuts the old
saw, in Capote's case; and if
there is tragedy in his not be-
ing redundant, the argument can
not have it both ways. No one is 
allowed more than one Ithaca.

                The train lurched; a ghost of steam
                hissed against the window; slowly the
                dingy lights of the lonesome depot
                faded past.

                'Boy, what a jerkwater dump,' said the
                woman. 'No town, no nothin'.'

                Kay said, 'The town's a few miles away.'

                'That so? Live there?'

Truman Capote
The Complete Stories
  of Truman Capote
Reynolds Price
  A Tree of Night
Random House, 2004©

iv - vi  Stuart Sutcliffe

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