Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Film Review--In Cold Blood (1967)

In general, I have big problems with both the True Crime genre that has become popular in the forty years since the release of Truman Capote’s serialized “nonfiction novel” and the biopic genre of film that produced the film Capote. There I was, though, with one genre that I generally despise getting me interested to see the film version of the original example of another that I generally despise. I had seen In Cold Blood, the film, a long time ago, but seeing Capote, as suspicious as I may be of that film, made me realize that I probably didn’t understand a damn thing about the movie.

Released a mere two years after Capote’s serialization of the tragic events of 1959, it still rings as likely the finest example of the genre and, while maybe not the revolution that the novel was on its respective art, is a phenomenal production. The film often comes off as anachronistic; period costumes just barely out of the period, stark black and white photography reminiscent of the noir genre of two decades earlier, and full jazz score by Quincy Jones contrast strikingly with the realistically frank, sometimes crass dialogue, violent imagery, and ambiguous storytelling in ways that really show a change in the way studios and the public would perceive content in film. It was two years later that a similarly frank, although sexual, Midnight Cowboy would receive an infamous X rating and help to lay the groundwork for our prejudice against sex and predilection for violence once restrictions became more lax in film.

What I find strange about the movie is the compassion for everyone involved, including the killers, making them somehow normal. So we vicariously experience the town, the crime, the investigation, and the execution of the murderers, who we’ve come to sympathize with as a product of their time and circumstance which, while very well done, rings a little bit creepy to me. From a storytelling perspective, there is no villain, no animosity bred with the killers, they come off rather sad, particularly in Blake’s representation of Perry who, in one key scene, stands at the window revealing to the preacher information about his father and, while stonefaced, the rain outside reflects against his face giving the sense of both sweat and tears, giving us an indication of both the sadness and pressure of his unique situation.

While I may not like the style that came out of this story in both film and literature, I think it is more of a question of quality in this case that sets this above the others. While films and books about Ted Bundy may give consumers the vicarious thrill of murder when they could not do so themselves, the haphazard presentation of such works has become the standard in the genre. When real thought and emotion are put into such a project it allows, as it does in the case of In Cold Blood, for us to see everyone as equals, killers and victims, investigators and lawyers alike in an attempt to get to the true psychology of crime. I don’t think this is completely successful at that, but it does successfully bring to the table something high above the trash of its brethren.