More human than Truman

Infamous reassembles the gay love story between the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.



Did Smith and
Capote really have a physical relationship, or is McGrath
taking liberties for the sake of his film? Capote would
never admit to a relationship with Smith even among
his closest confidants. But in George
Plimpton’s 1997 biography, Truman Capote: In Which
Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and
Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career,
Kansas local who was involved with the case states flat out
that Smith and Capote became lovers in the
penitentiary—although he admits that he
wasn’t there himself and wasn’t exactly a fan
of Capote’s to begin with. In the same book at
least one of Capote’s New York literary acquaintances
describes him as “in love” with Perry Smith.
Of course, Capote made no bones about the fact that he
found Smith fascinating, even endearing.

There’s a
telling moment, however, in a little-watched Maysles
brothers documentary that McGrath and Jones both cite
as crucial to the film’s premise. Originally
titled A Visit With Truman Capote and now known
as With Love From Truman, the documentary was made
just as In Cold Blood was beginning to take the
world by storm. Capote is at his home on New
York’s Long Island with a journalist from Newsweek,
explaining how he researched the story. At this point, the
Truman Show is so polished that he might as well be
reciting a script. Then Capote brings out a box
stuffed with letters from Smith. As he fondles the edge
of one of the envelopes, the filmmakers’ cameras
catch a strange break in his demeanor. He’s
suddenly silent. His lower lip trembles several times.
His eyebrows furrow. He lets out a strange sigh. Then, just
as quickly, he’s back in form, changing the
subject. That’s about as much of the real human
who played Truman Capote as we’re ever allowed to

[McGrath] suggests in the film that there’s a kind of
Faustian pact,” explains Jones (most recently
seen on the big screen as Smee in Finding
). “The man who has meant so much to you
has to die for you to get your masterpiece.
It’s the stuff of tragedy.”

For McGrath, the
decision to do more than just hint at
Infamous’s gay relationship was
make-or-break. “When we made the deal with Warner
Independent, I had a talk with [then-president] Mark
Gill,” he says. “It’s the central
thesis of my movie, and it wasn’t something I was
going to change. I wanted to make sure that there was
a kiss between two men in the movie. And he said,
‘Yeah, I get it.’ ”

One wonders if
Capote would. Or maybe, by the time he had fallen out of
favor, he might have felt, looking back, as if he were
watching his own performance. He’d understand
the irony. “If you want to move someone else as
an artist,” he says at the beginning of the Maysles
documentary, “you must be truly moved by what
it is you’re writing.” Then he adds,
“But you must keep exploiting that emotion in
yourself, over and over and over again, until you
become completely cold about it.”

Tags: Commentary