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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation ****

Starring: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto

Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Country: USA

It would be difficult to understate the significance of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams to American Literature. The former, whose novels Breakfast At Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood are firmly entrenched in literary iconoclasm, became a celebrity in his own right living as a society figure in mid-twentieth century New York. The latter, the lauded playwright of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, is considered one of the absolute greatest writers for the stage in the English Language. The pair – who were both gay – nurtured an intimate (and sometimes tempestuous) friendship throughout their adult lives and in this portrait from biographic documentary filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, Love Cecil) , we explore their lives and works through the lens of this longstanding alliance.

Alongside footage and soundbites from interviews, their personal writings are brought alive through strikingly realistic voiceover imitations from actors Jim Parsons (The Normal Heart, The Boys In The Band) and Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, The Boys In The Band). We hear anecdotes of their friendship both in New York and abroad, but also their arguments, rivalries and professional jealousies. Williams describes how he is envious of all other successes beside his own and subsequently sharpens his claws on his friend Capote.

Discussing the film adaptations of their work, Williams correctly identifies that the movies of his plays would be the most enduring versions of his legacy. The film is peppered with clips from these pictures, with Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Katharine Hepburn – icons in their own right – dominating the screen in some of their most enduring and acclaimed performances. Capote, meanwhile, was greatly dissatisfied with the casting of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, even though it would become one of the most iconic movie characters in the history of cinema, because he felt she simply wasn’t brash enough. Both writers talk about their annoyance with the studio system for toning down the content of their work to fit the censorship of the Hays Code, with Williams, particularly, discussing in candid detail the controversial themes of his work and their origins within his own life.

What isn’t controversial is the relationship between the pair. Their friendship was never anything more than platonic and the film illustrates how the duo drifted in and out of each other’s lives, moving in similar circles, living in the same city. Both have their own relationships, experience loss and struggle with addictions that would eventually kill them both. There is much similarity between them – their initial successes and their deaths were both merely months apart – but in character, they were chalk and cheese. With Capote’s effeminate panache and Williams’ southern charm, their lives and work coincided in the melting pot of post-war New York.

Vreeland has created a fitting portrait of these two figures, seamlessly assembling a tight narrative from the reams of footage that exist of them both. It does, as the title suggests, feel like an intimate conversation, but in its sensitivity it does seem to miss the glamour of its subjects in favour of respectful gravitas. We do see Capote at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli, but this party lifestyle is glossed over as symptomatic of his wider alcoholism. There is also only a hint toward Gore Vidal, a mutual friend with whom Capote would later nurture a very public and long-running feud, which is definitely a missed opportunity for some drama. In creating a portrait of the two writers together, it does mean that they are forced to share the limelight; something that both would definitely have hated. However, both stars’ enduring legacies are explored in depth in this fascinating documentary, which manages both to fluff their posthumous egos and examine their delicate underbellies all in one film.

UK Release: 30th April 2021 on demand, released by Dogwoof

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