Truman And Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Truman And Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
"A remarkably candid and intimate look at two men who lived a good part of their lives in public." | Photo: The Irving Penn Foundation/Courtesy Glasgow Film Festival

They were two of the greatest writers of their age; two of the greatest writers that the US has ever produced. They were both gay and both had experienced family rejection, yet whilst US society generally rejected gay people it made room for them, celebrating them because of their talents and taking a prurient interest in their personal lives. They were both from the South and built new lives for themselves following early career success. It's the friendship between Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, however, that forms the focal point of Lisa Immordino Vreeland's latest documentary. Beginning when the younger, Truman, was just 16, it would last a lifetime - and highlight their differences.

With Vreeland no stranger to celebrity documentaries of a certain flavour, viewers will be unsurprised by - but nonetheless appreciative of - the impressive quantity and variety of archive material she has assembled here, with clips from chat shows giving the two men extensive opportunities to speak directly for themselves, whilst Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto stand in for them to read from their letters and notes. This latter tactic allows Vreeland to present some of the conversations the two had, sometimes supportive, sometimes bitchy (especially on Truman's part), and to explore the ways that their friendship changed over time. Despite interruption stemming from petty insults and betrayals of the sort only possible between people who are very close, they were always drawn back together by the simple fact that they understood each other, intellectually, in a way that few others could hope to.

Through the lens of this friendship, we observe the considerable differences between the two and their reactions to the social challenges they faced - Truman constantly partying and immersing himself in celebrity culture, Tennessee at his happiest in a long term relationship which offered him stability. the latter worked continuously, even after his popularity went into decline, needing emotional space in which to explore difficult social and human issues, frustrated by a world which didn't want to listen (we see clips from the films based on his plays and hear him comment on how the censors altered their meaning). Truman worked in intense bouts, recovering in between, though he never quite recovered from In Cold Blood. The weight of other people's sins bore down on both men, assuaged by drink, which would hasten their journey to the grave. Along the way, however, they sparkled, and Vreeland captures many of these moments, communicating the magnetism that they displayed as individuals, not just through what they put down on the page.

A remarkably candid and intimate look at two men who lived a good part of their lives in public, this documentary teases out private perspectives which encourage viewers to reconsider what they already knew. If you know nothing at all, you'll still find this an accessible and intriguing film with a lot to say about cultural change in the mid 20th Century as well as about its subjects themselves. You'll be left wanting to explore of re-explore their work afterwards. This film is more than the sum of its parts, perhaps because it's in the ways that events (and people) are situated in relation to one another that we can catch a glimpse of truth.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2021
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The work, lives and personal journeys of two iconic American artists coalesce with creative combustion in this innovative dual-portrait documentary.

Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Starring: Dick Cavett, David Frost

Year: 2020

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2021

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