Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams met when the former was sixteen years old and the latter was thirteen years older, but they already had something in common to discuss, their passion for writing. They would both go forth into the literary world as curiously similar, yet markedly different in other ways, with the media and the public focusing on their homosexuality and tolerating their openness about it if it meant they could learn the sordid details of both their own lives and those of the characters - based in truth - that they wrote about. Their sexual orientation was illegal for a greater part of their existences, but as they kept their preferences to a rarefied segment of the upper crust of the literary cognoscenti, it was as if they were allowed to be themselves...
Capote and Williams were such curious personalities from the mid-twentieth century that it is difficult to encapsulate them in simply one film, taking a look at them from a single angle, and indeed this documentary was released within months of another, different Capote film which used tapes of his dialogue to illuminate his life. Here there was no access to that material, therefore director Lisa Immordino Vreeland was forced to use actors doing impressions - Jim Parsons for Capote, Zachary Quinto for Williams - reading out their private correspondence between one another and other people to fill in what ended up as a pretty comprehensive, dual, intimate portrait of the two men considering it was crammed into just under an hour and a half of running time.
We are told that while they could be very close at times, their relationship was never sexual, and they could easily fall out, as they did with seeming regularity. This might have been jarring had it played out as a series of still photographs with the two gay television stars of decades after the subjects' deaths chuntering on in not bad but not quite accurate impersonations, but luckily Vreeland was a demon with the archives, not just the letters and journals but clips as well. There were examples of film adaptations of their work, of which there had been celebrated versions while they were alive, but also footage from chat shows and informal interviews on magazine shows that allowed them to spring to life so that we had an idea of what they were like to listen to when they were in full flow of interaction, with David Frost and Dick Cavett proving highly valuable in prompting self-insights - Melvyn Bragg was heard too.
The picture you had of both authors deliberately courted comparisons even as it depicted their divergences; Capote was not as adapted as Williams, but what he did get were doozies, Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, highly regarded though the second was more respected as a translation from the page, as Audrey Hepburn was not Truman's idea of Holly Golightly (he wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role). It too, was bowdlerised as Williams' efforts were, victim to censors that dismayed him when they would be the most widely seen performances of the plays (he recommended leaving five minutes before the end of the films to avoid the imposed happy endings!), and while he remains respected in theatrical circles, you have to say he did not get two biopics made from his experiences as Capote did, preferring a quieter, more stable life. That said, they each fell victim to their addiction to booze and drugs eventually, another connection that Vreeland is evidently pleased to link up. As a primer, this was more than fine, as something more in depth, a book was really necessary, but to keep these vital talents in the public eye, she was to be applauded.
[Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation - available in virtual cinemas & on Dogwoof on Demand from 30th April 2021. Click here to visit their site. Photo images copyright Irving Penn.]