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Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Sony pictures has released a very interesting thematic double bill about the
author, Truman Capote. I screened "In Cold Blood" first so I'll review that one
here. I saw "Capote" in it's standard edition a while ago so I'll have to re-screen
it on Blu Ray to see how it holds up and compares to the other movie in a later

Richard Brooks "In Cold Blood" was released in 1967 and made during that interesting
transitional two years of 1966-1968. What makes them intriguing is that they were
still made under a modified Production Code and allowed general audiences to attend
them in cinemas. Geoffrey Sherlock had replaced the strict Joseph Breen as the PC
President in 1955 and took a totally different approach to movie censorship and content.
He realized times were changing and the Code had to be altered to allow more adult
material but was wary of those who would exploit any new screen freedom. The goal
at the time was to encourage writers and directors to explore formerly forbidden topics
including nudity, sex, violence and strong language but discourage a glut of gore and pornography
which is exactly what happened in 1969 when the Production Code was abandoned
completely and replaced with the ratings system.

In 1966 Sherlock stated that anything was allowed on screen providing it was
done in 'good taste'. Of course the question was, how does one define that term.
In this instance it was Sherlock himself who determined when a film had to be censored
or toned down to receive the "Seal of Approval" which was necessary to obtain if a theater
wanted to play to a general audience without restricting attendance.

Movies like "The Sand Pebbles" (torture scenes and violence), "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"
(profanity) and "In Cold Blood" (profanity and disturbing subject matter) really stretched the
Code to the limit. This movie contains a lot more swearing than you'd expect for a movie
from that year including the first instance of the s..t word that I recall. It was probably
too graphic for children to see at the time.

Brooks' adaptation of Truman Capote's 'non-fiction' novel is quite well done for what it
is and has many attributes that make it worth seeing. On the plus side are the performances
of Robert Blake and Scott Wilson as the two killers. They are so convincing in their roles
you forget they are actors. The cinematography by Conrad Hall is also superb. Shot in
Panavision and black and white it is not a 'docudrama' type of image but rather a very
moody 'film noir' style of camerawork. Hall is usually associated with "New Hollywood"
movies like "Butch Cassidy" which had grainy, underexposed and bleached out imagery
but in his early pictures he utilized the 'classic studio' style of camerawork very effectively
in pictures like this one, "The Professionals" and "Cool Hand Luke".

This film is structured very cleverly. Brooks first introduces the two killers and spends a great
deal of time making them somewhat sympathetic with flashbacks depicting their poverty stricken
childhoods and abusive parents. The Blake character is given more nuance and more sympathy
as he was in the book. Then the movie stops before the actual mass murder and skips ahead in
time as the two losers wander around Mexico and then foolishly return to the state where they
committed the crime and are picked up by the police and confess. This was a smart move in terms
of maintaining interest in their fate and empathy with their problems. Then towards the end of the film,
Brooks shows the actual crime in flashback which is extremelly brutal and sadistic. The last quarter of the
picture shows their trial, death row interviews and final execution.

What makes the movie unsettling is the fact that Brooks shot most of the film on the
actual locations of the events. You almost feel like you are evesdropping on what happened.
And of course, most people are familiar with the murder trial of Robert Blake when he was
accused of killing his wife a few years ago. He beat the rap but some people suspect he
was implicated in some way.

Unfortunately, there are some liabilities that undermine the impact of this movie. The idealic
depiction of the victims with sitcom muzak it's almost laughable. Everyone is too squeaky clean
and wholesome. There's no fighting between the sibblings, arguing with the parents or other realistic
behavior of a middle class household. Brooks did not have to show the Clutters in this fashion for
the audience to empathize with their fate. In fact if they had been portrayed in a more plausible
manner it would've been creepier.

The other problem is the rather pat explanation for the mass murder. It's the old excuse of
broken families leading to juvenile deliquency and crime. The problem with that thesis is that mass
murder within that context is the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of people from
poor childhoods don't go around shooting complete strangers. I guess Capote needed a hook to
make the events work as a narrative even if it didn't have the ring of truth. Brooks goes so far as
to have Blake's father image pop up in the Cutter home before the killings and as the hangman at
the end to emphasize this connection.

One current theory that wasn't around at the time of this production is the link of brain injury to
violent behavior. It even works in this case since the Blake character was in a severe motorcycle
accident that crippled him. The fact that Perry and Dick's fathers mistreated them could hardly be
the primary explanation for what they did.

The other problem with the story is that both book and feature take an 'anti-dealth penalty'
stance. In my opinion, you couldn't pick a better case in defense of the death penalty than
these two murderers. As Will Geer states as the prosecutor, if they were given 'life'
then they would be eligable for parole in seven years. The Blake character had already killed
someone before he was given parole and then committed these crimes. The best case
against capital punishment is to depict an instance where an innocent person was executed,
not guilty ones.

The video image and sound on this Blu Ray are excellent and a good representation of the original
35mm prints. I recommend this movie for the performances, structure and cinematography
but you have to be in the right mood to screen it. It's not what I would call 'entertaining',
It's very grim and depressing but worth watching as a companion piece to the book which
I also recommend. Unfortunately there are no extras.

It's interesting to note that the movie creates a fictional writer who chronicles the events
instead of having Truman Capote appear as a character in the film. The reason for
this is obvious after screening "Capote". In the seventies, I read the book and saw the feature
before actually watching Capote interviewed on Johnny Carson. I thought Carson was playing a
gag since the real life author is a flamboyant and bizarre character. It's hard to believe he wrote
this grim tale but truth is stranger than fiction in this instance. Capote was obviously aware of
his camp appeal as can be seen by his performance in "Murder by Death" in 1976.

Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
"Capote" is pretty much identical to the standard edition DVD except for the
increased sharpness due to the added pixel count. It's in widescreen and
5.1 although both imagery and audio are rather conventional and it's basically
a 'talking head' film.

I wasn't that impressed with the movie the first time I saw it although I will say
it works better within this context as a companion piece to the Brooks film.

Philip Seymor Hoffman does an uncanny impression of Truman Capote which
is the picture's main attribute. The problem is, this story isn't a particularly
flattering portrayal of the author. He's depicted as duplicitous, egotistic and
self absorbed as he manipulates the two killers into giving their story of the crime
so he can get his book published and make a lot of money on it. He seems somewhat
indifferent to their fate after he finishes his manuscript.

If you decide to rent or purchase this double bill, make sure to see the Brooks
film first.

There's another recent movie about Capote titled, "Infamous" starring Toby Jones
that I haven't seen yet and a one act play that was videotaped starring Robert ("How to
Succeed in Business") Morse which I did watch many years ago which was mildy entertaining.
Truman Capote is one of those artists where you can admire their talent even if it's difficult to
like them as people or relate to their personalities. Others in this category include John Lennon,
Joan Crawford and Robert Blake.
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