Truman & Tennessee: a tale of two wounded giants

Documentary portrays the parallel lives of American literary icons

The two men are brilliantly voiced by Jim Parsons (as Capote) and Zachary Quinto (as Williams)

Film Title: Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation

Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Starring: Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 86 min

Fri, Apr 30, 2021, 05:00

   

This year’s second major documentary on Truman Capote covers some of the same ground explored in The Capote Tapes, Ebs Burnough’s fascinating account of Capote’s long-lost final novel. Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland finds revelatory material by placing the author alongside another giant of 20th-century literature, Tennessee Williams. 

Using correspondence between the two men, brilliantly voiced by Jim Parsons (as Capote) and Zachary Quinto (as Williams), Vreeland explores a meaningful, rocky friendship and the irresistible intersections between the lives of the writers. Separate interviews with David Frost and Dick Cavett provide an early highlight and an invaluable source. (Contemporary viewers should brace themselves for deep questions unheard in television encounters for many decades.) Capote is playful in his responses. Williams is pleasant but guarded. “I’ve never lived without feeling love,” he says, in a careful deflection. 

Both men come from similar, thoroughly Southern, utterly broken backgrounds. Both were gay. Both identified strongly with their suffering heroines. “We’re all victims of rape,” says Williams. “Society rapes the individual.” Both were plagued by addiction. Both enjoyed huge and early commercial success before suffering major career setbacks: Capote with his last manuscript, Unanswered Prayers, which featured a thinly veiled version of Williams; and Williams, who notes that he never got a good review after 1961. 

Clips from various film adaptations – A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Fugitive Kind, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood – are accompanied by bitter accounts of the Hollywood experience. Williams suggests that, to appease censors, the studios ruined his endings and that viewers should leave filmed versions of his works “10 minutes before the end.” Capote rages that Paramount promised him that Marilyn Monroe would play Holly Golightly, but instead cast Audrey Hepburn. 

At one point, the irascible Capote’s jealousy extends to characterising Williams as unintelligent. Williams, in turn, is a no-show at Capote’s famous Black and White Ball.

An anecdote concerning the “amusing, bright, and always very vinegary” Gore Vidal being caught by a woman police officer breaking into Williams’s New York apartment would, alone, make Truman & Tennessee required viewing.