In Cold Blood & Capote – Or why you should never trust a writer…

Welcome to season 2 of The Frankenpod in which we will be looking at Truman Capote and his “literary non-fiction” novel In Cold Blood (1966).

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The media that we focused on included;

  1. The 1966 novel In Cold Blood: A true account of a multiple murder and its consequences by Truman Capote.
  2.  The 2005 film Capote directed by Bennett Miller and starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the title role.
  3. The 2011 collection of critical essays Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood by Ralph F. Voss.
  4. The 1967 film In Cold Blood directed by Richard Brooks and starring Robert Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickcock.

In this episode, we touch on some aspects of the real events surrounding the murder of a ‘nice family’ from Kansas by two complex and dangerous men who have been recently paroled and believed that the father, Herb Clutter, kept a large amount of cash in a safe in the home. No such safe existed. We don’t go into great detail so if you are looking for a more comprehensive look into the murders of the Clutter’s I would suggest the In Sight Podcast episode on the case.

In Cold Blood was the last book ever written by Truman Capote and was first published in 1965 as a four-part series for the New Yorker and was published as a novel in 1966. Capote was an acclaimed writer of fiction and perhaps his most famous book after In Cold Blood was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He was controversial largely due to his flamboyant self promotion and the brutal confronting honesty of his prose. Truman Capote promoted the book as an entirely new genre of book, the “literary non-fiction” novel. But it didn’t come out of nowhere, these things seldom do, historical fiction and non-fiction accounts that embellish and twist the truth to suit the author’s needs have existed for centuries. He claimed that In Cold Blood was an accurate account based on years of correspondence and investigation into the horrific murders of the Clutter family and Capote certainly spent an enormous amount of time researching and interviewing those involved. The issue that many critics have with the book is Capote’s embellishment and manipulation of the truth, often including scenes and quotes in the novel that never happened. Another contentious issue was Capote’s obvious attachment to one of the convicted men, Perry Smith and his story was given primacy when many thought that the book should have focused more on the victims and the impact the crimes had on others.

The efficacy of the creation of In Cold Blood and the scandal that surrounds it is almost as interesting, if not more so than the book itself as evidenced by films like Capote and the critical work of Voss. After the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Capote was determined to exercise more creative control over the film of In Cold Blood and the director Richard Brooks worked with him to create a beautifully shot if the somewhat narratively choppy film that they were both happy with.

 

 

  • Brooks, Richard, 1912- & Blake, Robert, 1933- & Wilson, Scott, 1942- & Capote, Truman, 1924-. In cold blood & Columbia Pictures et al. 2003, Truman Capote’s In cold blood, Widescreen ed, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Culver City, CA
  • Capote, Truman 2000, In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences, Penguin, London.
  • Miller, Bennett, (film director.) & Baron, Caroline, (film producer.) & Vince, William, (film producer.) & Ohoven, Michael, (film producer.) & Futterman, Dan, 1967-, (screenwriter.) et al. 2006, Capote, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Culver City, California
  • Voss, Ralph F & ProQuest (Firm) 2011, Truman Capote and the legacy of In cold blood, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
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Four Days to Go!

It’s 2pm Australian Eastern Daylight savings time on the 27th of October 2018 which means The Frankenpod season two starts in just four days on the 31st of October!

Halloween Spppooooookyyy.

Not really intentional it just seemed as good a time as any.

We have some amazing episodes coming with Melissa of The Brook Reading podcast on a particularly divisive and controversial book and I don my tinfoil hat with the ladies of Wives Tales to talk about a cinematic adaptation of one of the most popular conspiracies based novels of the 20th Century.

But for the first episode of season two Brent and I tackle a little true crime by examining a masterpiece of “literary non-fiction”, some of the controversies surrounding it and it’s cinematic adaptations.

We’ve recorded a short promo just to keep everyone in the loop and you can find the initial relaunch blog post here.

If you want a bit of a refresher on what we define as gothic you can find our introduction to gothic literature here and we will be updating this definition soon to include some of the things we have learnt along the way. There is also our everything is gothic unless it’s not and then it’s something else which might be useful if you are looking for more specific information about what we include as part of the gothic genre.

This season we will be featuring creepy stories submitted by listeners and some classic gothic short stories you may not have heard before. It doesn’t have to be frightening, it doesn’t have to be dramatic, just a little something that can be read in 5 minutes. If you like you can send it to us as the text for us to read or you can read it yourself and send us an audio file. If writing isn’t your thing we are also happy to accept music.

Make sure you let us know if you want us to promote your project, podcast, writing or anything. It is literally the least we could do.

If you want to come on the podcast and have a chat about your favourite gothic book, movie, television show, graphic novel, poem, character or author you can email us at thefrankenpod@gmail.com.

We can’t wait to be back!

http://thefrankenpod.libsyn.com/season-2-starts-on-the-31st-of-october

 

Promo Music: Swing Gitane by The Underscore Orkestra is licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Image: A digitized image of the original painting American Gothic that Grant Wood, a master artist of the twentieth century, created in 1930 and sold to the Art Institute of Chicago in November of the same year.

What we do in the Shadows with Meg from Indoorswomen

This episode I’m joined by Meg from the fabulous pop-culture podcast Indoorswomen. We talked about the 2014 vampire spoof What we do in the Shadows. I love this movie and Meg took part in the Kickstarter to get a US theatrical release of this distinctly New Zealand gothic parody. We completely spoil this movie so if you haven’t seen it before and you plan on watching it, watch it before you listen.

Listen Now

Every few years a secret society in New Zealand gathers for a special event: The Unholy Masquerade.

In the months leading up to the ball a documentary crew was granted full access to a small group of this society.

Each crew member wore a crucifix and was granted protection by the subjects of the film.

References

The Conversation Review: http://theconversation.com/what-we-do-in-the-shadows-the-nz-gothic-with-sharp-comic-chops-30764

Some History of Gothic Parody: http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198119920.001.0001/acprof-9780198119920-chapter-5

 

Frilled Neck Lucy – Dracula with Erin of SubverCity Transmit

This article accompanies Frilled Neck Lucy by The FrankenPod

For this episode, I talked to Erin who is the host of SubverCity Transmit and voice actor on No Sleep Podcast and Congeria Podcast. She also runs an awesome, spooky online store called Never Not Clever. So I’m incredibly grateful to Erin for making the time to talk to us.

The film we are chatting about is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) also known as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Erin knows so much more about the movie than I could possibly hope to learn and among the many insights she has to give, she touches on the influence of Winona Ryder in the production, the Academy Award-winning costume design by Eiko Ishioka and the very deliberately rudimentary special effect that can be such an obstacle to new audiences discovering and engaging with the film.

Other subjects we touched upon include:

  • Lord Byron, because he always pops up
  • The Symbolist Movement
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Ghost Hunting
  • Urban exploration
  • The 1991 movie Hook
  • and armadillos… because I just cannot get over this

Again apologies for my brevity!

Morgan

John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

Accompanying episode: John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

John Polidori

Born on 7th of September, 1795 in London.

Died aged 25 on the 24th of August, 1821, in London

Polidori wrote his thesis on sleepwalking during his time studying at the University of Edinburgh (name-checked more than once in our Body Snatchers episode with Courtney from Cult of Domesticity). He became a qualified doctor of medicine at the age of 19.

Sleep-walking plays a role in 19th and 20th-century vampire mythology, but this isn’t attributed to Polidori. Dracula, Carmilla and Varney all use sleepwalking as a kind of hypnotic state induced by the Count.

The young doctor was employed by on Lord George Gordon Byron, to accompany him while he was on his Grand Tour of Europe which would eventually lead them to The Villa Diodati, we’ve covered that here, so I’m going to go ahead and skip this bit. Except I better mention that Polidori was paid 500 pounds to keep a diary of the exploits of the “rockstar” poet by publisher John Murray.

The Fragment Debacle

Byron wrote a Fragment as part of the infamous ghost story challenge, Mary started Frankenstein and both Percy and Polidori started stories that they gave up on soon after. But when Byron discarded the fragment, Polidori used it as a springboard for his novel The Vampyre. Utilizing aspects of the fragment such as the character Arthur Darvill he created a full narrative, a far cry from the discarded document. Polidori took that fragment and turned it into what is believed to be the first vampire story written and published in English. The Vampyre was published a magazine without his permission (CORRECTION ALERT: I stated he gave permission in the Villa Diodati episode but that doesn’t seem to be true) and attributed it to Byron. I’m not sure how The New Monthly Magazine got hold of the manuscript but publishers had heard of this lost fragment of Byron’s and seem to have presumed that The Vampyre was it.

Byron and Polidori both printed corrections but the damage was done, particularly to Polidori’s psyche. He had tried to appeal to Percy and Byron to help him with his writing career and Byron annihilated him. The once The Vampyre was no longer attributed to Byron the public and critical reception turned bad. People no longer wanted to read it and actively condemned it.

Embarrassed and depressed he tried to enter the monastery and become a monk but that didn’t work out, then he tried to study law, but that didn’t work out either. He began to accumulate gambling debts and eventually felt so hopeless that he drank prussic acid and died aged 25.

Excellent Public Domain Article on this By Arthur McConnell Stott

His some of his published works were his thesis, The Vampyre (attributed to Byron), a poem The Fall of Angels (published anonymously in 1921) and his diary which would only be released in edited form in 1911 by his nephew.

ReWriting History

Mary Shelley disagrees Polidori’s actions at the Villa Diodati. In her 1831 introduction to a reprint of Frankenstein she says that it was a conversation between Byron and Shelley:

“Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life”

-Mary Shelley 1831

William Rosetti’s edited version of Polidori’s Diary indicates it was likely Polidori:

The conversation between Shelley and Polidori about “principles”and “whether man was to be thought merely an instrument” appears to have some considerable analogy with a conversation to which Mary Shelley and Professor Dowden refer, and which raised in her mind a train of thought conducing to her invention of Frankenstein and his Man-monster. Mary, however, speaks of Byron (not Polidori) as the person who conversed with Shelley on that occasion. Professor Dowden, paraphrasing some remarks made by Mary, says: “One night she sat listening to a conversation between the two poets at Diodati. What was the nature, they questioned, of the principle of life? Would it ever be discovered, and the power of communicating life be acquired? Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things. That night Mary lay sleepless,” etc.

-William Rossetti 1911

He must have really upset her, possibly when he propositioned her while she was on holiday with her boyfriend and her small child? That could do it!

Or alternately was Polidori misattributing Byron’s conversation to himself?

She also mentions Byron’s Fragment without making so much as a mention of The Vampyre, simply judging Polidori for his abandoned attempt at the lakeside Villa that night. Shelley does not owe Polidori any charity, but it is curious how willfully she avoids attributing him with even the slightest value.

Family Legacy

Polidori, continued to be a footnote in literary and cultural history as his nieces and nephews would go on to be much more critically acclaimed; Dante (poet and artist), Willian (writer), Maria (writer) and Christina Rossetti (Poet; My essay on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market) Polidori never met them, he died before they were born.

Just a Phase – Claire Clairemont

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Mary Shelley and the events at The Villa Diodati.

Claire Clairmont

Born: 27th April 1798 near Bristol

Died: 19th March 1879 in Florence

Published works: none

“But in our family, if you cannot write an epic or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature, not worth acknowledging”

Claire Clairmont to Jane Williams

 

Curran, Amelia, 1775-1847; Claire Clairmont (1798-1879)
Curran, Amelia, 1775-1847; Claire Clairmont (1798-1879)

Claire was born Clara, was nicknamed Jane as a child, and then adopted Claire in her teenage years. She was a wild teenager, and it sounds like she would have been a lot of fun until she got bogged down by Byron and all his drama.

It is quite possible she had some kind of affair with Percy Bysshe Shelley who was married to Harriet and already having an affair with Mary. Some of his poems are thought to be about her and their affair may have resulted in a baby called Elena. A baby by that name was registered as being born to Shelley and “Maria” but Mary could not have been the mother. If Claire was the mother she went up Mount Vesuvius just before she gave birth which is a weird call.

Whoever Elena was, she had a short life in foster care and died age one.

This brings us to Byron.

See Villa Diodati for more details on that mess. After her affair with Byron, she realized she was pregnant with his child. She wrote lengthy letters to the poet beseeching him to help her, financially and emotionally. But we’ve discussed how awful Byron was so you can probably guess how that went.

AllegraByron
Allegra Byron

Allegra

She had a daughter Allegra with no support whatsoever from Byron. Then in an effort to provide the best possible opportunities for her daughter, she sent Allegra to him in Italy.

I get it, a single mother, in Regency England, she didn’t have many options. She also had no way of knowing how little the poet would have to do with little Allegra once she arrived in Italy. Allegra was placed in a convent, alone. Byron never visited her.

Claire was furious! Byron had promised her that Allegra would at least be able to see him, not directly under his care, but at least in his house. Byron was unresponsive to her letters and requests to get Allegra back. So she formed a cunning plan.

The Kidnap Plot

Claire was intensely unhappy and worried about her daughter’s wellbeing in the convent. Her living conditions were unknown to Claire, but she did not hold out much hope for the suitability and safety of her accommodations. She was just a little kid, and if her father was going to neglect her she should be with her mother. Claire began to plan to get her daughter back. She tried to convince Percy Bysshe Shelley to forge a letter from Byron allowing Claire to remove Allegra from the convent. But before she could put her plan into action little Allegra died of typhus or a malarial like fever aged just 5. The only person to visit Allegra during her time in the Italian convent was Percy. Claire blamed Byron, understandably so, and ferociously hated the poet beyond his death saying that he had ‘given her only a few minutes of pleasure but a lifetime of trouble’.

After Allegra, then Shelley’s death, Claire’s desire in life seemed to be finding some semblance of peace and normalcy. It seems a though the rollercoaster of Claire’s early adult years had quenched whatever desire for turbulent romantic entanglements she had had. She spent time as a music teacher, a governess and a few other respectable and consistent jobs. She kept in touch with her stepsister Mary, and while their old rivalry and competitiveness occasionally caused a ripple, they stayed in correspondence until Mary’s death. Mary for her part said that she thought that is was impossible that Percy and Claire had a physical relationship. No matter what the truth is in regard to the nature of their relationship, it is clear they cared a great deal for each other.

Claire never married, an unusual choice at the time, but when taken in the context of what she endured at the hands of Lord Byron, it is not surprising. She had her fair share of suitors, including Trelawny who was part of the Shelley circle towards the end of Shelley and Byron’s lives. But Claire was fine without the drama.

She outlived all of her companions who were there at the Villa Diodati on the fateful night of the ghost story challenge. I find Claire the most relatable out of the bunch. Her life didn’t go exactly how she planned and she was not some inaccessible gothic romantic heroine.

She was Claire, and nevertheless, she persisted.

 

We need to talk about Igor…

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of the cultural legacy of the Frankenstein myth.

When I was little I thought Igor came from the story of Frankenstein.

When I was a teenager I thought they created Igor for the film.

Now that I’m an adult I have no goddamn idea. The “Igor” of the 1931 Frankenstein… was not called Igor, his name was Fritz. So where did this rambling, pivotal, yet utterly disposable character come from? Is he really a 20th century Universal Studios creation or is there something more to this embodiment of the strange, the gatekeeper to monstrosity and unnerving manservant that we call “Igor”.

 

Its an iconic image, the obsessed mad scientist connecting the wires to his creature and the machinery that presumably has something to do with the whole process. He might cackle, he might yell to the heavens, he might even wear steampunk goggles. But in this equation of the isolated man and his dangerous obsession, there is often a third party, someone to flick the switch. Enter Igor.

Or Ygor.

Or Fritz.

His character generally fills at least one of these three roles:

  1. The other that acts as a buffer between the doctor and his creation, such as in the 1931 brain mix up, we can blame almost anything on Fritz in his role as the assistant.
  2. The humanity to the Doctor’s crazed monstrous mania. He is in on the project, and tries to stop the Doctor or appeal to his better nature, in vain.
  3. A human exposition facilitator. In the novel of Frankenstein which features no assistant, the primary story telling of the creation process occurs over a large passage of time and through Victor’s narration. So without an overarching voice narration, an assistant can ask the questions that will allow the Doctor to fill the audience in on what is happening.

 

Presumption; Or the Fate of Frankenstein (1823)

Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation would set up some the more outlandish and comedic elements of the modern Frankenstein myth. In this play Victor’s friend Henry Clerval from the novel and the new character invented for the play, Fritz, assist him in his experiments. This allows for a broad distribution of blame for the subsequent events rather than all the responsibility lying at the feet of Doctor Frankenstein. Fritz also functions as an audience surrogate or even narrator in many parts.

 

Frankenstein (1931)

Dwight_Frye
Dwight Frye in A Strange Attraction 1932

Fritz (Dwight Frye) is definitely a scapegoat and entirely expendable. The criminal brain mix up is a game changer, it takes the blame away from Frankenstein, and places the emphasis on nature rather than nurture. He is a low stakes victim and by virtue of his cruelty towards the Creature and unfortunately due to his appearance. The ablist judgements at play in portrayal of Fritz and his successors give the audience an excuse to dislike the assistant right from the outset, which I think we can all agree is an issue and deeply problematic.

 

Son of Frankenstein (1939)Son_of_Frankenstein_movie_poster.jpg

We are introduced to Bela Lugosi’s Ygor. Ygor also has a physical impairment which was the result of an attempt to hang him for grave robbing. The former blacksmith can control the “Monster” making him a formidable opponent for Frankenstein’s son. The cultural othering of Ygor or the assistant as being a different nationality and therefore strange.

 

mcdyofr-ec003_h.jpg
Marty Feldman as Igor

Young Frankenstein (1974)

This time played by Marty Feldman, and named Igor, this comedy portrayal of the assistant would shape our understanding of the character forever. His exaggerated and unnerving appearance combined with Feldman’s incomparable and unsettling performance has buried the “Igor” deep into our collective cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth.

 

We will be watching Victor Frankenstein soon. I’m excited to see how Daniel Radcliffe deals with the somewhat intangible legacy of Igor.