Film review: ‘Truman & Tennessee’ dish about their work in new documentary

The two were friends, but Capote comes off as rather more catty


If you’ve been wanting to see movies on the big screen again, then the Violet Crown has a new title that might just get you out and about. It’s “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation,” directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

And yes, the director is related to the fashionable Vreeland family. In fact, her husband is the grandson of Diana Vreeland.

Vreeland avoids talking heads, which plague many documentaries. Instead, she uses TV interview footage, archival photos as well as film footage from screen adaptations of the work of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

Capote and Williams were friends and even vacationed together in Italy with their respective partners. Both were hugely successful during the 1960s. Both were from the South. Both had absent fathers and suffered from depression. Both struggled with alcohol and addiction. And yes, both were gay.

The most interesting footage comes from TV interviews by the British talk show host David Frost. He asks intimate questions of both writers, and they actually attempt to respond honestly at times. It’s important to remember, for those who weren’t alive in the 1960s, that this was a period of public intellectuals, where writers were considered to be worthy TV guests with worthy things to say.

Frost asks them such questions as: Have you ever loved someone? How many people have you loved? What’s the difference between love and friendship? And he also probes the themes of both writers’ works.

For instance, when talking about “The Glass Menagerie,” Williams acknowledges that it is quite autobiographical and calls it “a memory play.” Then he adds that the theme is “the necessity to break tender bonds” when growing up.

Capote, as you might expect, is a bit more catty than Williams. He says he once denied that “Other Voices, Other Rooms” was autobiographical, but he realizes in his later years that he was naive at the time. And he scoffs at the question of whether he is happy. “It’s the most idiotic question,” he says. “Happiness is like an orgasm,” rather fleeting, he says.

Williams is asked if he ever wrote roles for specific actors. And he says only once, for Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani in “The Fugitive Kind.”

Capote says he wrote “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with Marilyn Monroe in mind. But he says Paramount Pictures pulled a fast one on him and decided to go with Audrey Hepburn.

Williams is quite upfront that his last critical hit was “Night of the Iguana,” which was adapted for the screen in 1964 with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. He and others talk about his growing addictions and his relationship with a man known and “Dr. Feelgood.”

Williams, of course, goes on to die of asphyxiation in New York, on Feb. 24, 1983, having suffered a long bout of depression after his partner Frank Merlo died of lung cancer in 1963.

Capote says the book “In Cold Blood” changed him forever, and talks freely of his struggles and rehab programs, all of which fail. After causing an uproar when Esquire publishes a few chapters of his unfinished book “Answered Prayers,” his health declines precipitously and he buys a one-way ticket to California in August 1984. He shows up on Joanne Carson’s doorstep and dies shortly thereafter at her Los Angeles home.

Vreeland manages to pack much more in the 81-minute documentary, but she seems to do it with ease, perhaps because her research was thorough. The film is a must-see for anyone with an interest in either writer. And I can’t imagine too many film lovers who aren’t interested in both Capote and Williams.

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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