Calendar-Girls-001Calendar Girls

Even though the cinema is full of buddy movies and mindless stupid comedies, the joy of friendship, through good times and bad, isn’t celebrated enough in film, yet it is the heart and soul of this wonderful 2003 British comedy-drama.


Bennett Miller’s film Capote is a well-crafted, thoughtful look at the process by which Truman Capote sculpted his novel In Cold Blood.  The restrained control of color, minimal sets and costumes, and stark cinematography make this film so good that it should be studied in film schools as a masterful use of time and funding.

Cheyenne AutumnCheyenne Autumn

Cheyenne Autumn was the last western film in the great career of director John Ford.  Released in 1964, it was the first big Hollywood film to portray Native Americans as human beings, people who were not only more than primitive savages to be killed and driven off their lands by the white man, but people who were victims of the bigoted and corrupt government of the United States of America.

 Chocolat VienneChocolat

Most things that are good are not necessary bad.  In fact, most things in life that we enjoy are quite without sin, even if they do induce sensual pleasure, such as, let us say, chocolate, that most wonderful of confections.

 John WayneThe Cowboys

This 1972 coming of age western stars John Wayne as Montana rancher Wil Anderson.  When his hands abandon him to join in a gold rush, Anderson solicits the aid of local schoolboys to help him move his herd of cattle and horses 400 miles to market.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood - Hickock and PerryIn Cold Blood is a fictionalized account of a real mass murder that took place on November 15, 1959 on a family farm near Holcomb, Kansas. Although this account is as factual as it can possibly be, Capote shapes his characters and the action much in the way a fiction writer would approach a novel.  He creates scenes, writes dialogue, and gets into the minds of the principal figures in the killing and that is part of what gives this book such raw power.

The film Capote, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is based on Truman Capote’s journey in the creation of In Cold Blood, from generating the idea to traveling to Kansas with his research associate, young novelist Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) to research it, through meeting the killers to actually writing it.

Herbert Clutter was a successful farmer, a Methodist who lived in a nice farmhouse with his wife, Bonnie, and two teenage children, Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15. Two older daughters no longer lived there.  A former farmhand, Floyd Wells, while in prison, told two other prisoners, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, that Clutter kept a safe in his house that contained a large sum of money.  Out on the street in Kansas City, Hickock decided that he and Perry should rob the farm and take off to Mexico with the cash, so the two drove across Kansas to Holcomb to commit their robbery.

When they discovered that there is no cash in the farmhouse, they murdered the four family members and fled. The next day, the bodies were discovered.  Mr. Clutter’s throat had been cut and he had been shot in the head and the other three each died from a shotgun blast to the head.  The cold, brutal nature of the killings was part of what attracted Capote’s attention.  Nothing was stolen, there were no signs of struggle and each family member was found in a separate room, all of them but the father in bed.  Alvin Dewey, Jr. of the Kansas State Patrol was the key investigator in the case, but the solution came from Floyd Wells.  The man who had given Hickock the information that initiated the murders was also the man who named the killers.  Hickock and Perry were arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959 and returned to Kansas for trial. Between March 22 and March 29, 1960, they were tried at the County Courthouse in Garden City, Kansas.  Although both men pled temporary insanity, the jury brought in guilty verdicts within 45 minutes of deliberation and were sentenced to death by hanging.

While the killers were in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas, Capote visited them many times, especially Perry, who opened up to him. As Perry talked about his family and his past, Capote worked to get the real story of the murders.  Hickock had maintained all along that Perry had done the four killings himself, but Perry only claimed two, saying that Hickock had killed both women.  However, when asked to sign a confession to that statement, Perry refused and took the full blame himself.

The actual reasons for the killing may never be known. There was certainly a degree of panic on Hickock’s side when he discovered there was no money to steal and he may have incited Perry to do the shooting.  Perry was introverted, with a tortured personality.  He chewed aspirin relentlessly.  He remains an enigma, claiming to feel great sympathy for the victims, but absolutely cold about the killings.  Regarding Herbert Clutter, he said, “I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.”  Cold blood.

The title is so apt. Some might call it cliché, but it is simple, to the point, and so utterly descriptive of the act.

Capote’s writing is beautiful to read. He layers everything in perfectly and builds his characters with depth.  The first time I read this book, I felt myself grow from worry to pure terror.  I remember reading it in bed and getting up to walk around the house double checking the locks and the windows.

The structure of the book is part of what makes it so compelling.  Even though you know what happens, you can’t turn your eyes from it.  Like coming upon a spectacular car crash, you just can’t look away.  When the killings occurred, I felt so sick at heart that I didn’t really want to know the details–and Capote withheld them.  After the killing, when you would think the excitement is over, Capote builds his book all over, getting inside Perry and finally revealing the details, but through Perry’s own cold blood.

On April 14, 1965, Hickock was hung by the neck, suspended from a gallows for nearly 20 minutes before being pronounced dead at 12:41 AM. Then Smith’s execution followed and he was pronounced dead at 1:19 AM.  Four deaths, plus two deaths.  More and more death.

Whether you consider it a novel or nonfiction, it is truly great writing.

Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.

Isaac Asimov


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre

Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game

Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games

Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful

Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time

Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer

John Fowles

The Collector

Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust

Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn

Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards

Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You

Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea

Jack Kerouac

On The Road

Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams

Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is

Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern


The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy



The White Dragon

The Harper Hall Trilogy




The Renegades of Pern

All the Weyrs of Pern

Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God







Bennett Miller’s film Capote is a well-crafted, thoughtful look at the process by which Truman Capote sculpted his novel In Cold Blood. The restrained control of color, minimal sets and costumes, and stark cinematography make this film so good that it should be studied in film schools as a masterful use of time and funding.

At the heart of the film, though, is a great performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the diminutive novelist who followed his instincts to a small Kansas town to investigate the murder of the Clutters, a family of four, execution style, in their own home. The way he insinuated himself into their landscape was nothing less than audacious, especially for a flamboyant New York homosexual. Hoffman won the Academy Award as Best Actor for this beautiful, studied performance. He portrays Truman Capote as the consummate artist searching for the heart of the story and finding it in the person of the primary killer, Perry Smith, portrayed with restrained power by Clifton Collins, Jr. The relationship that develops between this unlikely pair is pinned on the fact that both of them had difficult childhoods.

Capote lies repeatedly to Perry to get the answers he needs. The heart of In Cold Blood resides with Perry’s unpredictable rampage that turned a robbery gone wrong into a heartless mass killing. The novelist takes his time to slowly lead Perry to tell the story until time runs out and he must manipulate the killer into telling how everything went down that night at the farmhouse.

A number of subordinate performances are also of extremely high quality, including Catherine Keener as Capote’s research assistant and brilliant novelist in her own right Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird) and Chris Cooper as the officer in charge of the investigation.

I urge anyone interested in either filmmaking or the art of the novel to see this movie. It is truly brilliant.