Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation (2020) – on demand

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is a fascinating documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland about two groundbreaking giants of contemporary literature and the creative process.

Luxury is creation

by Alexa Dalby

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Two tortured geniuses who were not only contemporaries but also knew each other and had a long-lasting intellectual friendship despite a brief falling-out… Bliss was it in that otherwise-grey 1950s dawn to be alive, when literature and theatre were being changed forever.

Truman Capote (original name Truman Streckfus Persons, later changed to his stepfather’s surname) and Tennessee Williams (real name Thomas Lanier Williams III) met when Capote was a precocious 16-year-old and Williams was 29. Both were openly gay Southerners with difficult and unhappy childhoods. Capote was witty, waspish, bitchy, petulant, teasing, humorous, mischievous, delighting in dropping the unexpected conversational bomb. Williams had the easier manner, more open and likeable, though still lazily mocking, with the most piercing gaze that drilled through to what lay underneath. Both were sensitive writers who became alcoholics.

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation, is an incredible, painstaking work of editing by Bernadine Colish and direction by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Love, Cecil, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel). It is an invaluable historical and literary resource.

The documentary splices together chat-show interviews that both men did with iconic hosts of the time, David Frost and Dick Cavett (interesting to note how different the probing questions they were asked then compare to now). These are interleaved with extracts from their own words that were not captured on archive film, given as sound-alike voiceovers by The Boys in the Band alumni Jim (Big Bang Theory) Parsons as Capote and Zachary Quinto as Williams. The combination of the two sources is seamless and illuminating, though some of the images used to illustrate the voiceovers are rather obvious. Gore Vidal is also introduced as a mutual friend and Williams tells a lovely anecdote involving him and Capote. The whole is set to elegaic background music, which gives a slightly melancholy feel, as for a reminiscence.

Both, the film concludes, really wanted to be loved, though Williams seems to have had an easier relationship with the world than Capote – at least, on the surface. It explains their works, the relationship between their art and their lives (with clips from filmed versions of many of Williams’ groundbreaking plays) and from the film of Capote’s novel In Cold Blood and their relationships with depression and addiction.

In some ways such as those, their lives were similar. In others, so, so different. Capote was the first celebrity famous for being famous, the film states, enjoying its trappings of Champagne and stays at the Ritz. When the celebrity-studded New York disco Studio 54 was at the height of its popularly, he mind-bogglingly speculated on which long-dead people would have loved going there. Williams in contrast, though smoother on the surface, was a lifelong, obsessive writer, able to decline party invitations.

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is clever and very worthwhile, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar you are with their work. Do see it.

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is available in virtual cinemas and on Dogwoof on demand from 30 April 2021.

Photograph: Clifford Coffin; Irving Penn/The Irving Penn Foundation

‘A fascinating account of a loving but troubled relationship’

‘It is a story told in their own words and serves as a reminder of what eloquent, witty, self-aware and sensitive individuals they were’

Join the discussion