Saturday, 19 May 2007

Infamous (2006)

And then, Sigourney Weaver whipped out her flamethrower...

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Infamous is that it comes less than a year after Capote. Both movies centre around the figure of Truman Capote, the high society author and wit who would write a mostly unlikely serious book about a murder in Kansas, and create an enduring piece of art and non-fiction writing that effectively destroyed him as an author. Both movies cover the same period of events, from Capote reading about the murders in a New York newspaper to shortly after the execution of the murderers, with Capote achieving his literary mission but ending up as a broken man haunted by intellectual and emotional exertions he made in order to get the book done.

But as the saying goes, sometimes it does take a person to do the exact same thing for spectators to realise how differently it can be done. And sometimes, it takes a movie like Infamous to show that despite its Oscar win, Capote wasn't the perfect story about Truman Capote and the writing of In Cold Blood. Watching Infamous, it is apparent that Capote was a self-consciously Serious Drama - it's like a moral play on film (Does the author lose his soul in his dealings with the murderers? Did he do greater symbolic violence to them then they did to their 4 victims?), shot entirely in a cinematic style with Big Movie angles, film stocks and colour tones, and having a tight focus on the cold-blooded author. You'll notice there are no such pretensions with Infamous - it's filmed in a mix of a naturalistic style and a comedy, and has a far wider focus, prefering to focus on Capote as a part of New York high society than the solitary artistic individual.

While it is true that Infamous tells the same story, it's completely different. For one thing, it's not a work of Great Art like Capote, but a risky and gutsy movie. Take for example, its propensity to poke gentle fun at how ridiculous Truman Capote must have appeared even in his day while laughing along with his jokes and witticisms about his friends, acquaintances, and hosts in Kansas, or perhaps the faux interview segments with his society friends, presumably made years after the publication of In Cold Blood - and there you have the essence of the complex comic style of the movie - it's an impressionistic collage of one man - and his friends, told as a "reality comedy" instead of a moral play, more interested in telling the truth about what a silly, conceited, entertaining, ridiculous, and clever man who had lots of other silly, conceited, ridiculous, but more respectable friends. When you look at it this way, you might see that Truman Capote was flattened into a solitary tragic hero in Capote, whereas in this movie Tobey Jones plays the Truman Capote that we remember and love, the awfully funny, witty, and one-of-a-kind queen who was everyone's closest friend, and the supplier of amusing gossip of his best friends. It's really a matter of taste whether one prefers a movie that tells the truth or a movie that tells The Truth.

It's not such a bad idea to build a movie on small slices of dramedy, and Infamous succeeds best when it does not strive for the dramatic moment or strive to create a literary effect. However, as history would dictate, Capote does meet the killers, gets obsessed with Perry Smith, and destroy himself in high Greek tragedy style. I personally felt that the change in gears is almost jarring at times and doesn't quite gell with the dramedy elements of the movie, although when Douglas McGrath wants this movie to be serious, he does succeeds fairly easy. There's a scene in the prison cell that will convince you why Philip Seymour Hoffman was severely hampered by his size, as well as shock you into the sudden realisation that Infamous is fundamentally different in its treatment of Perry Smith than Capote. I wouldn't want to spoil it for my readers, but suffice to say that it again shows the literariness of Capote and contrasts it with the emotionally more realistic style of Infamous.

I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who had watched Truman Capote on television or was highly entertained by his short stories and adventures in high society, and wondered how he could possibly have been the same man who wrote In Cold Blood.

First published at incinemas on 24 May 2007

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