(It was this or how to create a concise article title)
And now, our feature presentation. Popcorn grab. Snare drums. Spotlights. 20th Century Fox—quick dim. Music--slow burn melancholy. Pause. Fade-in words—Based. on a true. Story.
Or perhaps it should be put at the end? Right before closing credits so viewers are shocked? Forced to reprocess the plot?
Disregarding the ethics, what else could be so effective? Dispelling all comforts of falsity simply because it did happen. Reflecting now upon the twists and turns history has provided us--tailored of course--many such events would be declared unbelievable aside from the fact that they did happen.
“Anything you imagine is real” – Picasso
Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the novel relating to this article, In Cold Blood, wrote the novel based on very real events—the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas.
Arriving in town shortly after the incident, Capote extensively interviewed persons involved with the case, procuring mountains of information before ultimately spending six years to complete the novel.
“Spell-binding, a masterpiece” –Life
"The best documentary account of an American crime ever written. The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence . . . harrowing." —The New York Review of Books
But with success inevitably comes detraction, and acceptably so, but the criticism in this case was peculiar since it wasn’t directed towards the skill of the author or the subject matter, but the authenticity.
“I recognize it as a work of art, but I know fakery when I see it, he completely fabricated quotes and whole scenes.” –Jack Olsen
“That’s not how it happened” —Herbert Clutter
Capote to his death denied any flicker of foul play, claiming “every word” of his book to be true. And who could blame him? To admit even the possibility would caste out his work from being the original True Crime novel—a pillar of his legacy.
So unsurprisingly, as years have added to his fame, articles have periodically surfaced to dispute the accuracy of his novel, piling on proofs, but fear not my dear readers—this isn’t one of them.
I wish only to look at Capote for what he most was: a fiction writer. And the reason a writer of fiction is so terrified and liberated by a blank page is the incredible lack of limitation. What could be... smeared by actuality—work limited to the manifestation of imagination. On the other hand, a non-fiction writer, say a journalist, is limited to facts. And for this reason gifted journalists with a zeal for fiction (i.e. Joseph Mitchell) were forced to tow the line, catching flurries of flak in perpetuity.
But why so much grey? It all starts with one simple discovery. The story stands above all.
Well, that’s fine. But it’s not fiction we argue, but nonfiction.
And of-course. But I must reiterate my first point. Capote was, first and foremost—a fiction writer. And through a torturous search for truth comes the fleeting grace of its lie. Any fiction writer of worth soon knows the infidelity of truth, and one uses this past crutch to propel, never to be chained again. Capote, regardless of what he may have claimed could not have unlearnt this.
But, should one really expect such writers to adhere to laymen’s lines of truth and untruth? Yes…if they claim it. I know… even I cannot fight this without twisting lines like a grimy defence lawyer. But it remains a dark cloud over my literary youth that words are sometimes not enough. And to avoid murkier lanes of promotion and publishing woes, I leave the rest un-inked between these cringing lines.
Truman Capote in his ambition saw the possibility of a perfect merge, a way to tame the bias of imagination with a layer of actuality. By probing countless angles of an actual case, ideas could form independent of his limitation or preference; and by keeping said facts in the forefront of his considerations, the unearthed twists and turns could flourish—but never at the expense of the story.
Virginia Woolf once stated that “fiction contains more truth than facts.” I imagine Capote would slyly counter, “What if facts themselves could be fiction?”