TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION – Review
Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams were literary giants of the mid-20th century but they were also friends. TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION is more a tandem biography of these legendary authors than a conversation, but the documentary’s use of only the authors’ own words, read by actors Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto, does give it a conversational feel at times. However that conversation is not between the two great authors but rather with us, the listeners, as they discuss their lives and their work. Truman and Tennessee talk about each other, rather than to each other, as this excellent, insightful and entertaining documentary explores their lives and work through the lens of their long friendship.
It was a friendship had its ups and downs, but it was a long connection. Novelist Truman might be best remembered now for “In Cold Blood,” his “non-fiction novel” about a real crime told as if it were a fictional story, and his novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Tennessee Williams’ plays are still performed, including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Both Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams were known for their sharp minds, witty remarks and biting humor, making them favorites of the media and the wealthy. TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE is directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, whose previous film was a biography of her husband’s grandmother, fashion design icon Diana Vreeland. The film features still photos, archival footage, images of books covers, playbills and scripts of the many film adaptions of the work of both. There are also several clips of the film adaptations of their works, featuring stars such as Marlon Brando, Vivian Leigh, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
The two writers had a striking number of things in common, including links to St. Louis and New Orleans. Both were considered literary geniuses in their lifetimes, among the best of their time, and their works still are read and performed. Both were Southerners, gay, and used names other than the one they were given at birth. Both had difficult, wandering childhoods and distant or absent parents. Both knew they wanted to be writers early in life and were driven to make their work the bast they could.
The surprising number of things they shared in common are fascinating, revealed throughout this well-made, thoroughly researched documentary, The film starts with when the young Truman met the older Tennessee, starting a long friendship despite the 12-year gap in their ages. Although they were both gay, they were never lovers but had a bond built on mutual admiration and their common profession.
There is footage of interviews, with both men, with famous TV talk show hosts Dick Cavett or David Frost, which are featured several times in the documentary. Sometimes we hear the voices of the authors themselves and sometimes their comments, on life, love, friendship, writing or each other, are read by Jim Parsons as Truman Capote and Zachary Quinto as Tennessee Williams.
This wide-ranging documentary follows a chronological track but it covers quite a broad field to topics, and alternates between the two authors. The men each reveal their views on fame, love, and the process of writing. Both had concerns about the many film adaptations of their works, and concerns that the movie versions would be how many remembered their work. They reveal worries and pressures in their careers, and struggles with alcohol and drugs. And they talk about each other – sometimes in admiring terms and sometimes with bitchy dishing.
The resulting documentary is both informative and entertaining, with hardly a dull second. One of the nice things about this well-research documentary is the exhaustive list of sources included in the end credits, which has to be a boon to serious fans of either writer.
Fun and fascinating, TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION opens Friday, June 25, at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema and streaming through KinoMarquee.com.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars