Tonight, GayBoy and I saw the masterwork "Capote." A local gay newspaper ran an incredibly stupid opinion piece about the film.
I've written a very inflammatory rant and have fired it off to them already.
The film was brilliant. If writing bores you, if quiet, understated films bore you, then you'll surely not enjoy it. But if acting, the craft of writing, the torture a writer goes through in trying to do a subject the justice it deserves, is something of interest to you, then this is by far one of the finest films ever made on the latter two points, and a damned high contender for the best actor at next year's vanity fest dubbed the Oscars in Hollywood.
Here's the rant I sent them:_____________________
In Chris DeVito’s baffling look at Capote, he skewers the movie from every angle, but mostly, he makes a mockery of himself by claiming the movie is an offense to gay men everywhere. “Let a gay man do a gay man’s job,” he writes in talking about casting Philip Seymour Hoffman as the legendary American author.
While some gay activists may have this backwater line of thinking, the fact is, such statements drive a stake into the heart of the gay movement. If only gay men can portray gay men, then perhaps one could argue that only straights can portray heterosexual roles. Perhaps it’s time to see them for what they are: Men, pure and simple. Sexuality shouldn’t be the only deciding factor in who plays whom. If a gay man’s mindset is so irretrievably hard to access that a straight man can theoretically not understand it, then perhaps all hope is lost in the battle for sexual equality. Considering the present political climate, we should all hope this is not the case, regardless of where we stand sexually.
DeVito is wrong about this story’s ultimate premise. The real story in Capote is not, as DeVito states, simply about gay men falling for straight bad boys. The real story is the cliche of being careful for what you wish for. In this case, Capote never got over receiving what he prayed for -- an end to an epic story spanning nearly half a decade of his life by way of the execution of his subjects, which was to be the best conclusion he could ask for, speaking from a literary standpoint.
As a result, the author never got over his broken heart. He never got past the guilt that came from wishing for a man’s death simply so that his career could reach plateaus never before seen in the literary world, plateaus he would reach in the late ‘60s with the publication of the book In Cold Blood,
the focal point of the film.
All that aside, this movie is also about a writer who happened to be gay. His gayness defined him, from the way he spoke through to his vulnerability with his subject, Perry Edward Smith, whose demise later tore him apart. It’s a movie that doesn’t insult its public by believing it has to be black-and-white in stating its protagonist is gay. Yes, it’s obvious Capote was queer. Should it really need to be spoken, too? DeVito makes much of Capote portraying “the sissy with his limp wrists and swishy demeanour,” as if that’s some sort of affront to gays everywhere. Perhaps now it is. But then, in the conservative, pre-Sexual Revolution America of the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was a demeanour largely unseen in the world. Capote was an early pioneer in the opening of the closet door.
Unfortunately, DeVito, in his attempts to portray himself as a man-in-the-know about such stereotypes fails to recognize the courage with which the real Capote lived his life -- not in the closet, but openly gay in a time when such a move was a brazen, daring act.
Despite his homosexuality, Capote rose to become the most acclaimed writer of his generation. By breaking his own heart in falling for a man he could never have, he destroyed himself and destroyed his ability to ever again write a whole book. DeVito cheapens the emotional intensity with which Capote fell for the murderer, Perry Smith, by stating that “even successful, committed gay men simply cannot resist the straight bad boy.” Sadly, he cheapens Smith’s troubled legacy, too, with his flippant assessment of the situation.
Capote didn’t fall in love with “the straight bad boy.” He fell in love with one of the most paradoxical figures found in modern literature -- a character that even the best writer would have had difficulty in bringing to life. A passionate, intellectual man raised by way of a brutal childhood, who was mystified until his dying day as to why in the hell he suddenly killed a family of four he’d originally had no intention of harming. It was that failure of Smith to understand himself, the pain of Smith’s childhood, that left Capote so enraptured by this enigma of a man.
Writers, great writers, write so that they may find truth.The truth behind such a puzzling person was something far more fascinating than Capote could have ever dreamt up. Capote was also raised by way of abandonment and dysfunction, and Smith was someone he could relate to, something that Capote, entwined in the upscale, affected, artsy lifestyle in New York City, largely lacked in his own life, save for his literary confidante Harper Lee, and now his storied protagonist Smith.
DeVito again bashes the modern gay man by stating that the movie had no sex in it, no skin. Where is it written that a film about a gay man can only be true-to-life if there’s some random fucking scene in the backroom of a bar, a little skin to be beheld? How does sex even begin to amplify the mystery of this writer who drowned himself in remorse and J&B after getting exactly what he wished for -- the death of one of the only people he truly felt he understood, and vice versa? It’s a story about that love that remained unrequitted, not about sex, because there never was any sex to be had. To show a sex life with Capote’s life partner, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood, as DeVito states is lacking, would have little, if anything, to do with the struggles faced by Capote during the seven years he laboured under that soon-to-be American classic.
The only point on which DeVito is even half right happens to be an utter accident on the reviewer’s behalf. Yes, Capote is indeed one long shame spiral, but for completely different reasons than those cited. Capote pushed to try and have the executions of the two killers stayed. He found them a lawyer, and instead of helping them, he prolonged their torturous wait for execution by more than two years, a wait that still resulted in their death. Ultimately, Capote learned the true nature of the beast he had fallen for, and could no longer stomach the lies he'd told to further the relationship for his own gain, that the book was still largely unwritten, that no title had been chosen, that he was first and foremost Smith's friend, and not a journalist after the story of a century. In the film’s epilogue, a card appears that states Capote’s epitaph for his unfinished work before his death in 1984. It read, “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” The epitaph reveals that the author never got past the emotional hell he wallowed in for all those years following the hangings.
DeVito is simply, painfully wrong. Capote was a brave, daring homosexual in a time when closet doors were still firmly locked, not just shut. Comparing Capote as a man to the men of today is to ignore the context in which the man lived.
What may seem like a stereotype now, the effete gay, was something the world had seen very little of in Capote’s time, because few had the balls to lay it on the line like he did. To have travelled into the backwaters of Kansas in those days and not play it safe through an act of conformity was the beginning of the proud modern gay man, and was something to be embraced and honoured, not mocked by DeVito, who’s clearly missed all the points.
In short, DeVito rings false on all counts. He accuses the filmmakers of perpetuating stereotypes. The truth is, DeVito is far more guilty than they could ever be. Case in point, his dismissal of novelist Harper Lee as a “fag hag” shows that DeVito can’t for the life of himself comprehend the untenable bond found between two writers with a love for the same social analysis. No two writers better defined American life at the end of the 1950s than Lee and Capote. That they should be intellectually and emotionally inseparable over the years that followed is a given, not some pathetic fag-hag/gay-boy relationship.
DeVito should be careful of who it is he deigns as narrow-minded. After all, the pot’s looking awfully black next to the kettle.