Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation pairs archival footage and photographs with newly filmed sequences and voiceover to paint an intimate portrait of two larger-than-life figures of American literature: Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. In pairing these film techniques together, Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s film manages to paint a human portrait of the two figures which has, until now, proven elusive to capture on film.
Truman & Tennessee is structured like a conversation. Throughout the film we hear the two writers discuss their personal lives, work, vacations they took together, and numerous other subjects that would come up in a conversation between old friends. When famous writers are the subject of a piece, the focus is typically on their achievements, but Vreeland instead chooses to focus on the more personal details of the two writers’ lives. She does not discuss why they went down in history—these are facts we already know—but rather, she portrays them as humans instead of legends, focusing on how fame influenced the more intimate aspects of their lives.
Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto give voice to Capote and Williams respectively, and both do an excellent job portraying these literary giants. Despite never showing their faces on screen, they are able to fully portray the complexities of the two writers and their relationships with each other. Quinto is able to replicate Williams’s charming Southern drawl, and Parsons adds a certain childlike quality to Capote’s sharp voice.
On screen, we see amicable photographs of Capote and Williams, at parties and on vacations—both together and with various lovers—but in the voiceovers there is always a sharpness to the way they talk about each other. The two came from very similar worlds—growing up in the deep South and in broken homes, both gay in a time when homosexuality was not widely accepted—but the two never really saw eye-to-eye. From the way they talk, you can tell that they admired and envied each other, but never quite shared a mutual understanding.
Through these two writers, the audience gets a glimpse into two very different literary worlds. Williams, as a playwright, was much more comfortable in the limelight than Capote. Vreeland incorporates interviews of both writers with David Frost, a talk show host from the 60s. When Williams talked to Frost, he was very open, sharing very intimate details about himself, including his struggles with his sexuality and how he tried to repress it when he was young. His level of candidness is one that is not usually seen on talk shows, but that unexpected openness sums up who Williams was, as a person and a writer. Capote, on the other hand, spoke to Frost with a sort of defensive tone in his voice, he had no desire to share any intimate details of his life or writing. The sharp contrast in the tones of these interviews—especially with the same host—is a display of how differently these two men felt about being in the public eye.
With portraying Williams and Capote on film, Vreeland made the necessary decision to acknowledge both writer’s complicated relationship with the medium. When they were at the height of their careers, adapting their material accurately for the screen was nearly impossible because of the Hays Code, a set of rules stating what could not be shown on screen. Capote was famously not happy with the film adaptation of his novella, Breakfast At Tiffany’s—which went on to solidify a place in pop culture independent from its source material. Even Williams, who worked directly on the film adaptations of his plays, was not able to bring them to life in the way he hoped because of the film laws at the time. Though the facts stated in this part of the film can be found in any “Little Known Facts About Classic Films” listicle, hearing writers discuss their artistic losses in depth provides a level of insight that makes the viewer feel incredible sympathy for them. It made watching the film feel comforting, knowing that now their lives can be portrayed more honestly.
As someone who was already very knowledgeable about these two authors, I found Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation to be very enjoyable. Masterfully put together, Veerland’s film is well researched and the original footage shot for the film is beautiful.
Words by Sam Sims
Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation – available in virtual cinemas & on Dogwoof on Demand now.
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