VOD film review: Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
Matthew Turner | On 30, Apr 2021
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Cast: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto
Where to watch Truman & Tennessee online in the UK: BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / Dogwoof On Demand
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (whose previous bio-docs include Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict and Love, Cecil), Truman & Tennessee explores the relationship between literary giants Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, who were friends, rivals and contemporaries for the best part of 40 years. Using extensive TV interviews (both men were apparently regulars on the late night talk show circuit) and excerpts from their letters, diaries and works, Vreeland traces the lives and careers of both men, with their lifelong friendship frequently marred by bitter jealousy (both personal and professional) and fall-outs.
What’s particularly striking is the way the film underlines just how similar the two men were. In addition to being homosexual, they both came from the American South, they both had troubled relationships with their fathers and they both struggled with addiction to drink and drugs. At the same time, their careers took seemingly parallel paths – both men enjoyed early critical and commercial successes but struggled to repeat that success with their later works. Williams, in particular, was extremely bitter about it, complaining in an interview that he never got a good review after 1961.
Vreeland has assembled a wealth of excellent archive material for the film. The talk show interviews alone are extraordinary, with both men proving remarkably frank in their late night TV chats with the likes of David Frost or Dick Cavett. Watching those segments ends up being an oddly conflicted experience, because while the nostalgia itself is pleasurable, it’s also impossible to listen to the conversations without getting annoyed at the vacuous, superficial, commercially-driven state of today’s talk show circuit. You’d simply never see an in-depth, personal interview like this today and this film really hammers that home.
The interviews are also difficult to watch because they highlight the visual deterioration of the two men, and the impact of their addictions on their lives. That’s especially true of Williams, who’s visibly three sheets to the wind in at least one of his appearances.
One particular highlight of Truman & Tennessee is the time it devotes to the films made from Capote and Williams’ works. Alongside extensive clips from the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Baby Doll, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood (as well as many others), we also get the authors’ opinions of the films and snippets of trivia. For example, Williams was unhappy with the way the censors toned down his films and would frequently advise audiences to leave before the last 10 minutes, while Capote felt betrayed by Paramount when they cast Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s instead of his stated choice of Marilyn Monroe.
Throughout the film, Jim Parsons provides the voice of Truman Capote, while Zachary Quinto voices Williams. Quinto does a terrific job, perfectly replicating Williams languid Southern drawl, while Parsons is well suited to Capote’s occasionally shrill chirpiness, even if his own voice is perhaps a little too distinctive if you’re familiar with the actor’s work elsewhere.
Ultimately, this is an insightful and entertaining look at two of the 20th century’s greatest authors, augmented by sharp editing and an absolute treasure trove of archive material. If there’s a flaw, it’s only that Vreeland has a tendency to add in superfluous sequences of her own to illustrate the writing (e.g. a boy flying a kite), but that’s a minor quibble that doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
This review was originally published during the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.