Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Portraits and Observations - Truman Capote

Certainly not a rock'n'roller, but definitely a cultural icon, Truman Capote's expressive, almost poetic, style of writing made him a household name as far back as the 1940's. This books compiles essays and short stories of his observations from around the world. Starting with a chapter on New Orleans, his home town, he travels throughout the United States and Europe and his 1950's insights are particularly enlightening in the 21st Century.

Of particular interest, and the main reason I purchased the book, is his tale of traveling with the touring company of Porgy and Bess to Russia over Christmas time to chronicle their performances there. The culture shocks that everyone encounters, as well as the oddities of Russia at the time, is a story in and of itself, but the mixed race company provides plenty of fuel for the tale, as well, especially the hep-cat Earl Bruce Jackson and his jive talk.

His “portraits” are entertaining and informative also - Marlon Brando in 1957 in Japan for a film, Richard Avedon in 1959 preparing a book, and his "observations" (that were the text of the book) of the photographs that Avedon had taken of John Houston, Charlie Chaplin, Picasso, Duchamp, Mae West, Louis Armstrong, Humphrey Bogart and many more. I enjoyed the chapter on the filming of In Cold Blood, the portraits of people as varied as Elizabeth Taylor and Bobby Beausoleil (where Capote reveals that he knew John and Bobby Kennedy as well as both of their killers), and even a couple of self-interviews. There's a story of a serial killer (separate from the In Cold Blood story) followed by a tale of him following his maid around on her daily stops and getting quite stoned with her. There's an amusing conversation with Marilyn Monroe at a funeral and remembrances of numerous others. His style is always beguiling and intriguing and is practically prose writing at times.

I really enjoyed this collection and will certainly be looking into other works of his. I suppose I need to broaden the authors that I follow!