Film Review: ‘Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation’

 

Two titans of 20th-century literature are profiled here in Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s fascinating documentary that weaves together the lives of these frequent friends — and frequent rivals.

Both were Southern. Both were queer. Both suffered troubled childhoods. And both of them were responsible for some of the greatest works ever put to paper — Capote for In Cold Blood and Williams for A Streetcar Named Desire, to cite just two masterpieces.

Vreeland has done yeoman’s work in assembling archival footage to tell their stories, including parallel interviews with David Frost and Dick Cavett. As Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter pointed out, these conversations were far more revelatory than the softball interviews conducted by today’s talk show hosts. At one point, Williams admits, “I don’t like myself very much.”

Portrait of Truman Capote (Photo by Carl Van Vechten Collection/Getty Images)

Other archival footage is accompanied by narration by Jim Parsons as Capote and Zachary Quinto as Williams. As the film goes on, their voices become simultaneously reflective and erratic as their physical appearance dissipates. Both were doomed to untimely deaths from overdoses.

Although they considered themselves friends, the relationship could become quite rocky. Capote tells an interviewer that Williams “isn’t intelligent,” while Williams reveals that he refused to visit Capote in Capri with his dog because “there would be two bitches in the room.”

They both discuss the film adaptations of their works, accompanied by many clips. Capote is still angry because he was “betrayed” by Paramount for casting Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s instead of his preferred choice, Marilyn Monroe. Of course, at that point she was tortured by demons of her own and would only finish one more film before her untimely death.

Williams complains that his work was neutered by the censors of the day. Truly, it’s hilarious today that Baby Doll caused such a controversy when it was released. It’s as mild as toast in milk. However, the adaptation of In Cold Blood still remains powerful now, thanks to the unrelenting direction of Richard Brooks.

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation premieres today, June 18, at the Nuart in Los Angeles and Film Forum in New York. It will also be available through Kino Marquis.

Cover photo: Getty Images

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