Saturday, July 15, 2006

Capote/Brokenback redux and outwitted

Many of my friends and family were party to (or, in some cases, part of) my argumentation about the possible merit of Capote and Brokeback Mountain. Well, I finally saw Capote on pay-per-view at a friend's house last night. Here's my redux:

Capote is every bit as good a film as I thought it would be, and is much more important for gay culture than Horseback Mountain because it shows a REAL gay man and his REAL struggles both to understand his feelings (which Capote avoided by submerging himself in alcohol), AND---more importantly---to make an important work of art, which Capote did. As the film hints at, in the process of creating he changed all of American Letters. Capote's creation as a gay man---a straight man could never have done what he did in getting to know Perry Smith, that is, a straight man could never have had the conflicted, ambiguous, manipulative, but in the end [most likely] intensely erotic relationship with Smith---contributed more to American writing than any other single artist of the 20th century (I don't mind dealing in hyperbole here). There have been greater writers since than he was, but most owe their vision of reality to him. His ability---conscious or otherwise---to turn his inner conflict into a masterpiece that affects people universally---made possible an entirely new kind of writing in America. There, that's my humble opinion---unsophisticated and unscholarly as it may be...

Truman Capote's genius, it seems to me, lay in writing just on the surface of feelings and truths that are too terrifying even to try to describe, telling those truths in real details so clear that they come to life without ever being stated. I'm not saying that only a gay man could have done that, but the fact is that he WAS a gay man, an alcoholic, a survivor of (at least emotional) abuse. And his genius allowed him to shape his realities (including his love for/hatred of/monstrous willingness to use Perry Smith) into a kind of writing that maintains its terror even today, nearly half a century hence. And the film shows all of that.

Annie Proulx manipulated what she thinks gay feelings are into a maudlin story that belittles gay men, and I can't believe Brokencock Mountain as a film does anything other than that, being made and marketed [emphasis on the "marketed"] by straight men---and I will never watch it. The difference is that Truman Capote was able to get inside another unbelievably conflicted man's head---probably a "latent homosexual" to use the jargon of their day---and then, because he was a genius, he worked out feelings that he, himself, never understood by creating a new genre of literature. Even that most arrogant and "macho" writer of our time, Norman Mailer, couldn't resist writing in Capote's style---as has every writer worth his or her salt since 1960. And Annie Proulx is not worth her salt. When she is dead, her fame and importance as a writer and artist will die with her because she never has written anything as real and honest as most of what Capote wrote (right down to the almost, but never quite, sentimental and/or maudlin A Christmas Memory) and encouraged others to write. Does anyone think for a moment, for example, that To Kill A Mockingbird would ever have existed if Capote had not taught Harper Lee how to write? Or Norman Mailer's rip-off, The Executioner's Song? or any of the short stories of Raymond Carver? Or even the skating-on-the-surface pseudo-reality tall tales of Garrison Keillor?

Capote certainly had the ability to "stare," as his contemporary Flannery O'Connor said a fiction writer must. And almost anything, if you stare at it long enough, becomes frightening---and lovely at the same time. Writers like Annie Proulx don't "stare." They glance and then make assumptions on which they base their writing. If Annie Proulx had written In Cold Blood, her judgment of Smith and her erotic desire for him would have been all over the page. Capote's went with him to his early grave. That the film Capote caught the essence of the man and his work---and understood the secret of his genius---is clear from the fact that the friend I watched it with asked at the end, "Was Capote in love with him?" Capote, the artist, never tipped his hand.