By Mark Butterworth
Looks like they're going to have to take away Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar and give it to Toby Jones, the actor portraying Truman Capote in Infamous, a movie that covers the identical ground that last year's Capote did.
Jones makes Hoffman's performance look like a good imitation of the diminutive, lisping, homosexual writer while Jones' portrayal is letter perfect. He completely disappears into the character and you never see anyone but the character.
The focus is in both cases on a homosexual love story while Capote's agony and ecstasy for art's sake becomes way too precious the second time around. It makes you wonder what is the fascination for some people with this gay Harlequin romance where the "girl" wins the tough but also sensitive, muscle rippled, ultimate He-man, bad boy. Talk about your rough trade.
The perversion of wanting the audience to care more deeply about an egotistical, ambitious writer and a vicious murderer rather than the members of a brutally murdered family illustrates something profoundly sick about the people who are drawn to create these things.
It's as if the murders only exist to launch this sordid, homosexual, epic fantasy. Of course, perversity has becomes Hollywood's stock in trade for "serious" movies. Sympathy for evil and those who do it is the current fashion. The evil are simply people whose souls are a little more tortured than our own. You understand.
It's as if a certain kind of person has to demonstrate their moral superiority over the hoi polloi because they can find it in their hearts to empathize with the sad, downtrodden pedophile, the patri- or matricidal son, a child slaughtering Andrea Yates, or by fighting to keep an unrepentant, racist killer, Tookie Williams, from being executed.
Wouldn't it be really cool if we could just make a movie casting poor Jeffery Dahmer in a better light?
Thus, in Infamous, the Clutter family is killed (in passing really), but they're mere caricatures of humans and so we don't care much about them. We're supposed to care about a Very Important Book that will come out of it, the sad, fiendish soul of Perry Smith and the fey, little elf that falls in love with him.
There is a beautiful moment when Capote and Harper Lee are talking to a farmer, a friend of the Clutters, in a flat, bleak Kansas field. The man explains how fine a man Herb Clutter was and then sermonizes, "When a man does something right, he gains a weight that keeps him rooted to the earth. But then every now and then a bad wind comes. It could be a woman, alcohol, something, but it takes a man and sweeps him off the ground like a leaf. . . You're in control until you're not in control and then you're helpless."
This is a central truth that both Capote and Infamous and In Cold Blood should have realized, but the capricious horror that life can suddenly unleash is noted only in passing. Yes, we are supposed to realize that poor Truman Capote's heart got swept away like a leaf, too, but such homo-eroticism - sterile, perverse, infantile - as it occurs in Infamous hardly qualifies as the disaster which overtook the Clutters and so many other victims of cruel men and nature.
What happened in Kansas was a tragedy for the Clutters, their friends, and the community. It was not such for the murderers or Capote and by making them the focus of sympathy, a great disservice is done to the living and the dead.
The movie is engaging, though. It is well made, although the use of talking heads, retrospective commentary by those who knew Capote, as a expositional device didn't come off that well and seemed a bit cheesy and amateurish. The movie also adds repellent scenes of homosexual behavior in the second half that disgust the audience in a way that Capote avoided.
You could almost say that the second half was gay soft porn. Some people justify this kind of thing because the art that went into crafting it is impressive, and such stories, regardless how lurid, shameful, or narcissistic somehow expose a reality about a fallen world that we need to know about.
As John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Artists:
"Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption."
But many have used these words (or something like it) as an excuse to indulge in the enjoyment of perverse entertainment, or in justifying such work.
Infamous is not intended by its creators to spiritually edify, but merely chronicle self-referential emotionalism. I feel, therefore I'm real. There is never any interest in suggesting, Because He is, I am.
(C) 2006 Mark Butterworth