Capote

I saw the film last night. The movie itself was solid, but Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was incredible. Beyond just mimicking Capote’s mannerisms and voice, he did a great job of portraying Capote’s dually sympathetic/parasitic relationship with the killers who are the subject of his book. On the one hand, he seems to generally care about their fate, but on the other hand he wants them to be hanged so he can finally finish In Cold Blood. He befriends them, but also lies, manipulates and uses them. Throughout the film, I kept thinking about this passage from Janet Malcolm’s book, The Journalist and the Murderer:

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns–when the article or book appears–his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways, according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and “the public’s right to know”; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

The catastrophe suffered by the subject is no simple matter of an unflattering likeness or a misrepresentation of his views; what pains him, what rankles and sometimes drives him to extremes of vengefulness, is the deception that has been practiced on him. On reading the article or book in question, he has to face the fact that the journalist–who seemed so friendly and sympathetic, so keen to understand him fully, so remarkably attuned to his vision of things–never had the slightest intention of collaborating with him on his story but always intended to write a story of his own. The disparity between what seems to be the intention of an interview as it is taking place and what it actually turns out to have been in aid of always comes as a shock to the subject.