The Capote Tapes from director Ebs Burnough and writer Holly Whiston utilises recently-discovered audio interviews with those on the inner circle of famed-author Truman Capote, pairing them with new interviews, to give an intimate portrait into successes and scandals of the Louisiana-born talent.
Chronicling author Truman Capote’s life through previously unreleased audio contributions from the likes of Lauren Bacall, Norman Mailer, and the author’s partner Jack Dunphy, The Capote Tapes examines Capote’s rise to fame through novels Other Voices, Other Rooms, Breakfast and Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. Yet, particularly enthralling is the documentary’s examination into Capote’s undoing through his purported masterwork Answered Prayers – a sprawling tell-all divulging the secrets of the country’s affluent social class.
Opening with musings from Kate Harrington – Capote’s adopted daughter – who tells us the author would take her to his social lunches and when her attention was found waning he encouraged her to listen to the conversations others sat at nearby tables so she could tell him everything they spoke of. This taste for gossip and the scandalous is something that courses throughout the narrative of The Capote Tapes and ultimately leads to the destruction of many of the author’s closest friendships.
From the glowing praise of Capote’s 1948 novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, the feature delves into the professional achievements and personal stories behind those from Capote’s contemporaries, friends and critics. From his rise to prominence, capturing the attention of New York’s socialites including Slim Keith, Babe Paley and Gloria Vanderbilt, Capote would be a regular fixture in both the nightlife and entertainment scene. Burnough delves into Capote’s most mainstream success Breakfast at Tiffany’s and its subsequent cinematic adaptation which only went on to boost the author’s celebrity persona, despite being a sanitised version of his 1958 novella. The feature’s documenting of the mammoth success of the author’s true crime novel In Cold Blood also makes for interesting viewing.
However, it is the personal insights into Capote’s life that craft the most in-depth depiction of the author’s persona. Novelist and friend Dotson Rader delves into the voyeuristic hobbies he and Capote shared in the city’s bathhouses, whilst Capote’s role as a Studio 54 mainstay makes for fascinating nostalgic viewing. The exploration of Capote’s role as gay person (including Norman Mailer’s description of Capote as a “beautiful faggot prince”) also showcases the venom Capote merely faced for his sexuality, whilst also tapping into his resilience and his otherness as a reason why his career reached the heights that it did. Examinations into Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball also provide some intriguing glimpses into sixties celebrity culture.
With the creation of Answered Prayers continually ticking along in the background, The Capote Tapes is at its most enthralling when detailing the subsequent fall-out from Capote publishing the first four chapters in Esquire Magazine in 1976. Answered Prayers was Capote’s version of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time – with Capote’s novel providing a thinly veiled tell all exploring the secrets and scandals of his socialite friends. Delving into the outrage of the nearest and dearest to Capote at the betrayal and sampling some of the book’s crass material, The Capote Tapes documents the novelist’s fall from grace and the ire experienced by friends who promptly untethered themselves from him.
Whilst particularly successful in its exploration of Capote’s later years, The Capote Tapes, proves to be a fresh and insightful glimpse into the famed novelist’s life, career and impact. The use of previously unreleased interviews from Capote’s inner circle adds a further sense of depth and originality to the documentary.
The Capote Tapes will be available at altitude.film and on all digital platforms across the UK and Ireland from 29 January.