PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

From Screenwriter to Character: 'Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies'

This is a good enough read, but it doesn't find the right balance between sensationalism and criticism.


Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies

Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Length: 497 pages
Author: Tison Pugh
Price: $79.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-05
Amazon
“The movies. Again. In the last month he’d seen so many films, snatches of Hollywood dialogue rumbled in his dreams... And each morning before leaving for work he left on the mantel fifty cents -- rain or shine she went to a picture show.”

-- from "The Headless Hawk", by Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s legacy as one of the finest American writers of all time is undeniable, but as Tison Pugh suggests in his Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies, Capote was also very important as a cultural figure; perhaps the first truly “modern” literary artist the 20th century gave us. In his book, Pugh attempts to create the ultimate essay on why Capote's work epitomizes truly “influential” work. Pugh’s interest is in Capote’s effect on film, and as he explains, he doesn’t necessarily mean films about Capote or those written by him, but rather, films and even plays that were made about his work.

Divided into chapters that encompass each of Capote’s facets in the movie world (from screenwriter to character), the book makes for a breezy read, especially when Pugh quotes Capote. “I wasn’t more than fifteen years old when I decided to be so obviously who I am and what I am that anyone who so much as asked the question would look like a fool” he said about his sexuality, and Pugh aptly mentions this right away, as if to get Capote’s homosexuality out of the way and avoid pretending he was ever closeted.

Yet the book tends to become too obsessed with Capote’s sexuality, to the point where it feels sensationalist at times. While it’s clear that the author was completely comfortable in his controversial skin, Pugh denies him the chance to be an artist who did not necessarily have to always talk about sex. Pugh gives everything Capote did or said a queer angle, and as much as that could make sense, it also could go the other way.

To assume, for example, that every child in a Capote creation is a manifestation of his early queer self (because children are not sexualized and therefore “must” represent ambiguous sexuality) makes for an interesting and valid critical point. “Capote’s child characters, appear on the surface as avatars of innocence and introspection, but whose subterranean desires surface to reveal their queer investments in adult eroticism” he explains, but by the time you reach the fourth mention of this theory, it makes Pugh sound too self important and self conscious.

To call Pugh’s intentions ambitious would be an understatement. The problem is that more often than not, the author seems to be running out of ideas and choosing to recur to repetition and assumptions, particularly when it comes to Capote’s sexual orientation. It’s a well known fact, for example, that Capote had a platonic affair with murderer Perry Smith when he was doing research for In Cold Blood. Like the old adage of beating a dead horse with a stick, the story doesn't change, yet Pugh keeps at that horse as if that were the only reason In Cold Blood became a seminal part of literature and film.

Pugh also mentions Capote’s affair with actor John Garfield and tends to paint him too much like a “bitter queen”, instead of focusing on his achievements in the art of cinema, as opposed to Hollywood gossip. However, there are chapters in which the book attains true lyricism, and it’s in those chapters in which Pugh lets others do the talking for him.

The chapter about Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a terrific account about the making of the movie which highlights Audrey Hepburn’s class -- “I was terribly afraid I was not right for the part. This part called for an extroverted character... I am an introvert” she said about being cast -- and how Capote came to terms with the beauty of her work, even if he intended the part to go to another actress. “Holly had to have something touching about her... unfinished. Marilyn had that. But Paramount double-crossed me and gave the part to Audrey Hepburn” he reportedly said.

What the book does best is encourage us to seek out Capote’s work in any form. Capote's artistic talent, and not his sexuality, is of utmost importance. There are moments of heartbreaking beauty in quotes like “I knew damn well I’d never be a movie star. It’s too hard and if you’re intelligent, it’s too embarrassing,” uttered by Holly Golightly, which could also have been about Capote himself, who knew he didn’t have the right looks to be a star, even though he adored the movies.

Capote’s incendiary comments also make for a treat. For example, “You can not get dumber than Marlon Brando... he’s got a great sensibility and no sense.” Apparently Capote he had a soft spot for Geraldine Page (who won several Emmys starring in television adaptations of his works) “Capote frequently voiced his disdain for actors in his writings, yet he unreservedly admired Page’s talents”.

Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies makes for a good enough read, but it doesn’t find the right balance between sensationalism and criticism.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.