Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Stars: Truman Capote, Dick Cavett, David Frost
Voice of Truman Capote: Jim Parsons
Voice of Tennessee Williams: Zachary Quinto
Released April 30th
The history of letters is punctuated with literary partnerships; some creative, some sexual, while others were bitter rivalries. Coleridge and Wordsworth, Keats and Shelly, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre are well known. Rimbaud and Verlaine were both sexual and tempestuous. Truman Capote (1924-84) and Tennessee Williams (1911-83) may not have been lovers but they were certainly close in spite of their age difference. They stand, decades later, as two of the key figures of American theatre and literature in the twentieth century. Their relationship has been described as a ‘spiteful sisterhood.’
They shared roots in the Southern states which infuses their work and sensibility. Both were gay, in Capote’s case flamboyantly so, in an age where sexual difference was not condoned or tolerated. Both addressed homosexuality in literature and drama in works such as Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), and Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). It can be difficult for us to recreate, or fathom, the hidden lives that such men lived.
What comes across in this carefully crafted and well-documented piece, is the catty nature of close friendships. We do not mind great praise or financial reward bestowed on a distant genius in a different discipline but when praise is lavished on a sibling or a colleague in the same field (one thinks of academic departments) there is no stopping the swiping and sneering of which rivals and friends are capable. That comes across here most effectively. It can be amusing on one level and we can smile at Williams’s references to Miss Capote holidaying in Italy. But it can display envy too and uncertainty, the multiple Pulitzer prize-winning playwright feeling threatened by the younger man. Capote was then the toast of New York’s idle-rich matrons, a short-lived success as we know from the complementary The Capote Tapes, which should be seen in tandem with this film.
The stronger element in this work is the insight into the creative struggle – the actual physical and emotional slog of penning words on paper – the sheer difficulty of matching one’s previous success and the shocking turmoil that can ensue when success cannot be replicated or tastes changes and critics become cynical. All of this is presented in a measured way with judicious use of historic interviews with the likes of the persuasively probing David Frost (1939-2013), also reminding us of the changes that have come in the area of chat shows and informed television.