The picture above says it all, but the story is an engrossing one. Two very different men, both pulled forwards by irresistible forces, each remarkable in their own way. Playwright Tennessee Williams lived like a king on the back of a series of ground-breaking plays and films, even when the movies distorted his original meaning. Truman Capote’s work also suffered on the way to the big screen in terms of censorship, but although he partied hard, a mordant outlook always emerged, and an unhappy end loomed. That two such huge literary figures could be long-time friends is quite a tale, and Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary, distributed by Dogwoof in the UK, feels like its made for posterity,and that’s no bad thing.
I’d initially not been keen; having studied Williams’ work, but not Capote’s, I felt I knew too much about one and not enough about the other to enjoy this. As it turns out, that’s not really a problem, since this film turns out to have a number of approachable angles. The key is great archive in the form of dual interviews, with both Williams and Capote facing a tv interrogation at the hands of David Frost, who asks remarkably similar questions and makes possible some smart intercutting. Sparks fly; Capote describes Williams as ‘not intelligent’ which is something of a slam. Meanwhile Williams finds that ‘friendship and love are the same thing.’, a sweeping statement cannily designed to take various personal tensions out of the equation. Frost himself gets quite a lot of screen-time; the idea that playwrights and authors were deemed interesting enough to question about love at prime-time hermetically seals the content in the past, but preserves something worthwhile.
As careers go, Williams peaked too early and knew it; Capote became famous for his own fame, and set a deliberately bad example of how to feed on society’s darkest elements then vomit the whole lot up in prose and words. Capote’s treacherousness clearly hurt Williams, but the gap was one that Capote seems to have been keen to close, and the overall picture is of two men who adored each other’s company, and the pleasure-seeking life-style which was opened up for them.
You don’t have to be an English lit major to enjoy this; with juicy clips from the faithful bits of the hit films made from their works, this is an ideal introduction to the work of both men. While there’s no burning question or narrative through line, both men’s sexuality was somewhat gingerly handled by the press during their lifetimes, so this documentary does an admirable job in setting the record straight. The merging of the talent’s interviews and writing is seemly; I didn’t realise until the final credits rolled that Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto read the texts in lieu of primary sources, but it figures. There’s a degree of artifice required to being the ghosts of the past to life; Tennessee and Truman works because such care has been taken to recreate a friendship that’s truly one for the ages.
Photo credit for the wonderful images at the top; Truman-Tennessee-An-Intimate-Conversation.-Photo-of-Tennessee-Williams-Courtesy-by-Clifford-Coffin-Truman-Capote-1948-by-Irving-Penn-©-The-Irving-Penn-Foundation.png