‘TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation’ Telluride Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival Review
Truman Capote and Tennessee William were friends over the forty year period they wrote, teased/ridiculed each other, basked in each other’s humor and love and grew envious, only to meet for dinner one last time before Williams died of a barbiturate overdose and Capote followed him, dying of alcohol complications 18 months later. Tennessee, the 13-year elder, met Truman when he was 16-years-old. He was charmed and delighted by his wit and personality and Truman believed Tennessee to be a genius. From then on they became fast intellectual friends whose relationship provides a fountain of lyricism, wisdom and exquisite writing for the curious.
This beautifully rendered poetic account of these two giants of American literature by Lisa Immordino Vreeland is a haunting, must-see, cinematic in memoriam. What makes her film doubly enjoyable is the superb and spot-on voice-over narration by Zachary Quinto (as Tennessee Williams) and Jim Parsons (as Truman Capote). Without their appreciation of these individuals, the realism that they brought to Capote’s and William’s voices and intentions would not have been as acute.
Vreeland selects choice quotes from the writers’ letters, telegrams, articles, TV interviews (David Frost and Dick C avett) and illustrative snippets from the original films of their work (A Streetcar Named Desire-1951, Baby Doll-1956, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-1958, Suddenly Last Summer-1959, The Fugitive Kind-1960, Sweet Bird of Youth-1962, The Night of the Iguana-1964, The Glass Menagerie-1987, Breakfast at Tiffany’s-1961, In Cold Blood-1967, The Grass Harp-1995). The last three films in the list are from Capote’s works.
The filmmaker astutely supplements these clips with many archived photos (a rare one of Laurette Taylor in the original production of The Glass Menagerie). These also include historical, personal photos from Capote’s and Williams’ youth through the aging process. Thus, we see photos of their parents, relatives, studio portraits, friends and imagistic reflective moments. Also presented are their visits to Ischia and video clips of Rome and elsewhere with intriguing voice-overs by Quinto and Parsons.
Vreeland wisely moves in chronological order starting with their beginning successes, after she introduces both individuals in their separate David Frost interviews. David Frost and Dick Cavett remind us of their insightful, sensitive attention as listeners. Their winsome charm elicits the trust of their interviewees who allow them to go to places which at times are uncomfortable. Just seeing these clips as a remembrance of how in-depth interviews were conducted is a historical record. It was something the seeing public was used to (not duplicated anywhere on mainstream TV today).
Success for Williams began in 1945 with A Glass Menagerie (one of the most performed plays on the planet). With Capote his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was published to acclaim in 1948. Vreeland carefully organizes her subjects with refreshing candor. She often backtracks according to Capote’s and Williams’ responses to the searching questions by David Frost and Dick Cavett. The hosts ask them about friendship, love, self-identification, sexuality, parents, upbringing and more. Then Vreeland extrapolates and illustrates with voice-over quotes and snippets of their work. She ties all together with narrative and bridge photography of scenery or stills that relate to their lives (where they lived, traveled, partied).
As a result of this varied structure, she remains flexible in her use of archived photos, videos and films and Williams and Capote’s thoughtful comments that Parsons and Quinto narrate. This is a kaleidoscope that elucidates brilliantly; it is a fascinating intimate capture of both men as writers, celebrities and individuals.
Heightening the exceptional and seamless account are the voice-over quotes spoken by Parsons (Capote) Quinto (Williams). Their inflections, accents, the expressed emotion, pacing and silences immeasurably resonate to meld with the carry-over shots. The visuals and the audio with smooth synchronicity are stunning because of the matched cinematography; it’s like words and music that cohere and inform one another.
The film is a tone poem. What Vreeland and her creative team deliver is breathtaking. Importantly, because it is so well crafted, the personal information we learn becomes a delightful exercise in the study of who these mysterious writers were and still are, for their impact on our culture and global culture continues. Certainly, these artists have achieved a timeless immutability in their work. Vreeland’s respect for these artists helps us appreciate them and their relationship all the more. Whatever the weather between them, it is clear that they influenced and impacted each other’s work.
Foremost, Williams and Capote considered themselves artists, then writers and celebrities. Brutally honest in the interviews with Frost, they also reveal their playful mischievous natures. They express their reactions to their homosexuality growing up and afterward when they had to reside in worlds of pretense which sheltered them. Both were rejected by parents. Williams mentions that he and his father didn’t get along; his father didn’t like him very much the more he stayed home and got to know him. Capote’s mother remarried. She took him to a doctor because of his homosexuality and asked that he be given shots. Capote interpreted this to mean she thought him a monster.
Their honesty about whether they “like” themselves, if they think friendship is more important than love, whether they had affairs and a discussion of their thoughts as writers and how writing is paramount to who they are remain telling. Both battled depression with drugs and alcohol. Dr. Feel Good was their man for escape as it was for many celebrities at that time. Their responses to Frost’s questions, “Are you happy?” are both wise and intensely human. Williams’ discussion about the subjects in his plays (lobotomy, mental illness, cannibalism, rape) are philosophical and realistic.
Capote discusses how his work and effort on In Cold Blood took so much out of him, he was never the same again. He did witness Perry’s death which must have given him PTSD. The research and interviews of the murderers so impacted him, he asked his great friend Nell (Harper Lee) to join him to keep him company as well as have her help him solicit interviews with the otherwise aloof townspeople. He says that in a way, he died working on In Cold Blood; the metaphoric comment is just the tip of the iceberg in what Capote wanted to achieve and achieved in creating a new genre: narrative non-fiction.
Truman ad William admitted that, like all authors, their work has elements of auto-biography and is personal. Additionally, they affirmed their compulsion to write and create worlds of their own inhabited by characters they liked to spend time with. Williams pointed out the loneliness of writing. Though acknowledging it, Capote didn’t mind that as much.. Vreeland makes clear that their writing and the characters in their works occupied them with surprising turns of behavior. Capote likened writing to artistry that can reach a form of grace. Without mentioning the G-o-d word, he implied that there is a divinity or extraordinary place that great writing touches making it human and identifiable.
This certainly is a must-see film for anyone who is a writer or anyone who aspires to be a writer. They will be affirmed and encouraged by what these two icons share.
From editing to cinematography, from direction of Parsons and Quinto and the selection of all the quotes, video clips and archived material, all kudos to Vreeland. Her amazing work should be shown to literature and drama classes in colleges and high schools who investigate and read Williams and Capote. The film flies by, never snagging in dead spots, a feat in itself.
TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation opens JUNE 18 in New York at Film Forum. It opens in Los Angeles at The Nuart and Laemmle Playhouse & Town Center 5. The film also is available in virtual cinemas nationwide through KinoMarquee.com
Posted on June 18, 2021, in Film News, Film Reviews and tagged Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Truman&Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.