A weblog dedicated to noir fiction and film, music, poetry and politics.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
As far I'm concerned, the film Capote has by now just about been hyped to death. Not that it doesn't deserve more than a little praise. After all, it’s an interesting movie, particularly regarding, heaven forbid, how the mind of a writer works. Or, at any rate, a certain type of writer. By which I mean, the type that deals with public concerns, and the genre that has come to be known as creative non-fiction. In the film Capote we discover the lengths to which a writer will go to get his or her story. Was Capote more ruthless than other writers? Perhaps, but who can say? Certainly, he was amongst those responsible for establishing the cult of the writer as a public personality. Not that this was anything new; it’s just that Capote was able to exploit it, and the media, better than most. Capote, the film, is, of course, laudable for its acting- Philip Seymour Hoffman, as everyone says, is brilliant- as well as the camera work- extraordinary shots of Kansas flatlands- and script- condensing a long story into a short one. Of course, this isn’t the only film, nor perhaps even the best film, about writing or writers. What about Billy Wilder’s Front Page and Ace in the Hole? Or Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, and, to a certain degree, Mackenzie’s Sweet Smell of Success. And, even though it was a failure as a movie, Wim Wenders’ Hammett did a pretty good job of portraying how the public and private sides of the writer intersect. Of course, any film that honestly attempts to show a writer at work is doubtlessly laudable. At least Capote the film is never boring. Having said that, I was left somewhat unsatisfied. And it wasn’t because of the various inaccuracies. I’m all for poetic license. No, what bothered me had to do with the way the movie commodified what had already been commodified. For Capote had already packaged the underbelly of 1950s American culture, and would soon turn himself into a commodity. By writing In Cold Blood, he may well have have altered the direction of American fiction, but, as the film, says, he would never finish writing another book. Instead, he became a celebrity of dubious proportions, and a sparring partner for the likes of Mailer, Baldwin and Vidal. One can't help but wonder if these things are connected. Meanwhile, the entire culture would be fair game, put for sale and privatised for the benefit of the quickest pen and sharpest mouth. Perhaps one day we will get a film or book about the making of the film about the writing of the book, or, in other words, a commodity of a commodity of a commodity. Hey, perhaps profitability really is infinite. Just be sure to leave your clown costumes at the door.
London-based journalist and author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction; and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.