Unfortunately for writer/director Douglas McGrath, Infamous was beaten to the box office by Capote (2006). Both films portray the complex relationship between writer Truman Capote and death-row inmate Perry Smith, but each is very distinct. This one boasts "humour and compassion" plus star turns from Toby Jones and Daniel Craig. But still, moviegoers felt they'd been there, done that.
The Truth About Truman
Aside from the obligatory trailer, a commentary by McGrath is all that accompanies the film on DVD. On the upside, it's a highly entertaining ramble through the history of the film's making, and most of all, a chance for McGrath to share some of the juiciest titbits of his research. For instance, he relates an anecdote from celebrated scribe Norman Mailer, who regretted wanting to meet Capote when his fellow writer turned up at an Irish pub in Brooklyn wearing "a green gabardine cape..." McGrath explains that as he delved deeper into his research he found that Capote only dressed in a flamboyant way when he needed to disarm people, or throw his 'subjects' off their guard. Needless to say, it worked.
One of the more unusual techniques McGrath used to expose Capote's many faces were the 'testimonials,' or short interviews with those who knew him. He explains too that this was a way to "connect with these characters very quickly," and once again his research turned up some delicious details. He did a last-minute rewrite on a scene with Juliet Stevenson (who plays socialite Diana Vreeland), after a conversation with Isabella Rosellini. She told McGrath that she and Vreeland once shared the same housemaid, who swore that Vreeland demanded she "iron her money" every morning. As one does…
Write And Wrong
In addition to this high-society gossip, McGrath talks about building the moral conflict at the heart of the story. He describes Capote's pal Harper Lee (played by Sandra Bullock) as "his Jiminy Cricket," the moral compass which he chooses to ignore. The filmmaker himself also takes issue with Capote's methods as a writer, especially his notion of 'true fiction'. And although he says he is "not a visual director," he explains how he illustrated the growing intimacy between Capote and Smith using the prison setting. At first the bars separate them, but as the relationship develops, those divisions melt into the background.
Anyone curious about Capote's world, or simply the art of creative writing, will appreciate this commentary. What's more important to note, after being overlooked on its theatrical release, is that Infamous is a delicately-crafted and downright entertaining film that deserves a piece of the limelight.
Infamous DVD is released on Monday 4th June 2007.