Two literary titans whose celebrity and cinematic adaptations often transcended the exposure of their own written works are the focus of new documentary Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation which plays as part of this year’s home version of the Glasgow Film Festival. Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary delves into the works, wit and personal battles of both Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams whilst also veering into their unique, complex relationship with one another.
Using archive interview footage from the days of when high profile literary talents would gain primetime publicity on talks shows (those of the late Sir David Frost and Dick Cavett make regular appearances here), paired with film extracts from their literary adaptations, and readings of their correspondence, Truman & Tennessee crafts an absorbing glimpse into two extraordinary and complex men. Zachary Quinto delivers the quietly raspy Southern drawl of Williams, whilst Jim Parsons slightly-less effectively takes on voice-over duties for Capote – yet given how distinctive the latter actor’s tone is, it’s hard to fully hear Capote instead of Parsons.
Intertwining narratives about the careers and personal lives of Truman and Tennessee allows Vreeland to capture the similarities and differences of the two men from their Southern upbringings to coping with their own sexuality. The filmmaker intricately examines how this would have an effect on their most well-known works from the autobiographical undertones of Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms which he notes was a subconscious attempt to “Attempt to exercise demons,” whilst the themes of Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire in their exploration of “The necessity to break tender bonds” or focus on character collision courses, give an intriguing insight into the author’s work in his own voice. Well selected interview footage and in-depth voice overs explore both writer’s motivations and inspirations (Williams speaks interestingly about his passion for Chekhov, whilst Capote draws on Moby Dick) shedding further light on what prompted them to write. Whilst the depth that the film examines the artists’ work may not be enough for purists, Vreeland captures an appropriate balance using these examinations to give insight into the author’s psyche and inspirations.
Truman & Tennessee is at its most interesting when examining the relationship between their initial waspish friendship – highlighted in an amusing anecdote regarding Capote and Gore Vidal attempting to break into Williams’ home, yet being caught by the police. The waspish good humour of this relationship did sour unfortunately and Vreeland captures this through her well-selected evidence. Anecdotes regarding a planned joint trip to Portofino provide an amusing insight into the personal rivalry and bitchery between the two men, whilst their critiques on one another’s work gives further insight into the professional rivalry. Similarly to the the year’s earlier Capote documentary The Capote Tapes, Truman & Tennessee delves into the release of the author’s self-proclaimed posthumous novel Answered Prayers – a scandalous thinly-veiled tell-all delving into the secrets of the jet set. Of course Williams was a feature in Answered Prayers with the The Night of the Iguana playwright horrified by the grotesque spin-on his character that Capote launched.
Further intriguing insights into the similarities between both men – including their shared superstitious attitudes give further depth into the men behind some of the most intriguing works, whilst a glimpse into the sex lives of the men in particularly probing David Frost interviews give a well-pitched glimpse into gay life in the 20th Century.
Truman & Tennessee also delves into the both writer’s concerns about the quality of their adapted works. Noting that cinema will most likely be responsible for crafting their legacy, Williams seemed more satisfied with his adaptations, whilst Capote’s dissatisfaction with Breakfast at Tiffany’s has been well-documented. Vreeland supports these musings with clips from the films in questions – which goes on to further showcase the artistic legacy of each of the writers – regardless of whether they approved of these are not.
Truman & Tennessee is a hugely satisfying watch that provides further insight into the works, personas and relationships of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Using an interesting technical and creative approach, Vreeland is likely to have you hunting for copies of both writer’s works from your local bookshop or dusting off the copies that you do have.