The Capote Tapes – I am here, and I have been listening

10 mins read

The Capote Tapes is released nationwide on all major digital platforms 29th January

“Any love is natural and beautiful that lies within a person’s nature; only hypocrites would hold a man responsible for what he loves, emotional illiterates and those of righteous envy, who, in their agitated concern, mistake so frequently the arrow pointing to heaven for the one that leads to hell”

Truman Capote – Other Voices, Other Rooms

Where do we begin when exploring the life and work of Truman Capote? After all, his legacy lies in both his literary genius and the tragedy of his early death. But for me, both his life and death are part of a bigger story. One that takes us far beyond his celebrity status, and into the heart of his experiences as an ‘out’ gay man. It is the story of a young man born in 1924, abandoned by his mother, and destined for literary success. His difference, passion and talent, opening the doors to New York’s exclusive celebrity circuit. While his groundbreaking novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms bravely unlocked the door to popular gay literature. It is a story of a constructed persona offering safety in a world where acceptance was hard to find. A story that is reflected in the new documentary feature The Capote Tapes.

Truman Capote never hid the fact that his writing was layered with his own personal history. Each of his novels built around real-life experience laced with dazzling creativity. From Breakfast at Tiffany’s and his estranged mother’s background to the controversial In Cold Blood. A book based around the real-life murder of a family in Kansas. Its publication heralded as a modern, but controversial masterpiece. At the same time, Capote found himself accepted and welcomed into New York’s celebrity elite. A club made up of movie stars, musicians and models who lived in impenetrable bubbles of wealth. Their acceptance of Capote built on his flamboyance, humour and artistry.

However, as with all elite clubs, hidden rules surrounded access and privilege. And while accepting Capote with open arms, his downfall would ultimately rest in his journalistic eye for the truth. His final unfinished work Answered Prayers openly sharing the secrets, gossip and knowledge he had acquired over years of active listening. His death from alcoholism at 59 in 1984 haunted by his exclusion from the very people who had once embraced him. But, why did Capote risk it all with Answered Prayers? Debate and conversation have circulated on this very question for decades. With some pointing to arrogance, while others talk of naivety. However, is it possible the truth lies within Capote’s past? Including his struggle for acceptance in a world where gay men were viewed as novelties and entertainment.

Following a similar vein to 2019’s Making Montgomery Clift, first-time documentary filmmaker Ebs Burnough delves into Capote’s life. His sharp, engaging and fascinating documentary offering unheard tapes, unseen home movies and photographs. The reel-to-reel recordings of George Plimpton focusing on Capote’s life and work through interviews with friends, enemies and acquaintances. But, does this new documentary provide fresh insight into Capote’s life and work? The answer to that question is yes; the most interesting example of this Burnough’s exploration of Capote’s childhood, sexuality and eventual fame.

On his move to New York in 1932, the teenage Truman rekindled a relationship with his estranged mother; attending school before taking work as a copyboy for The New Yorker. Capote was effeminate, small in stature and openly gay in a world where gay men were outcasts. But, despite his mother briefly welcoming him back, Truman was never to find her love or affection. Moving back to Alabama following his dismissal from The New Yorker to concentrate on his first novel. In many ways, Capotes experience reflects that of so many gay men in the 20th Century. As they left their home towns for a new life free from fear; seeking security while building a wall around their emotions. With many never finding the comfort of belonging, they so desperately desired.

It is here where The Capote Tapes is at its most fascinating; exploring Capote’s disconnect from the world around him. His self-made shield of impenetrable steel offering protection from harm while ingratiating him into the unreal invented and secret world of celebrity. His place in the elite group of aristocratic women he called his “swans,” otherworldly and fantastical in construct. A world where he provided entertainment while also living free from harm. Here, he created an acceptable caricature that fit the world of parties, privilege and secrets surrounding him.

However, beneath the veneer, Capote writhed with insecurity and doubt, his inquisitive mind constantly searching for the meaning of belonging. These insecurities and doubts are clearly exposed as he submerged himself into the Kansas community of In Cold Blood alongside Harper Lee. His fascination with the local culture and community dovetailing with a sense of his own social exclusion and need for purpose and meaning. The results of which, were beautifully portrayed in Capote by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. In many ways, this disconnect from reality and search for belonging helped create Capote’s writing genius. His journalistic ability to be present, involved and personable, hiding a mind that recorded everything; the world around him a playground of stories and ideas. His detachment from that world, allowing him the freedom to speak openly and embellish upon the ideas he consumed.

Answered Prayers was to be his opus, as he lifted the curtain on New York’s wealth and privilege. But, Capote found himself engulfed and lost within the stories he had collected over the years. His place and purpose becoming just as unstable as the delicate world of celebrity surrounding him. Therefore, when pressured into offering the public a first look at the novel promised, the result was less than flattering for his friends and foes. His openness and honesty in the stories recounted, clearly identifying individuals through thinly guarded pseudonyms.

But, maybe, Capote knew exactly what he was doing with Answered Prayers. His opus, in fact, a statement on belonging and acceptance that had simmered under the surface. One that finally said ‘I am here’ and ‘I have been watching and listening,’ in a brazen act of defiance, as he popped the bubble of celebrity life; a bubble he adored and despised in equal measure. While at the same time, cementing his place in history as both a journalist and author. Whatever your final take on Ebs Burnough’s accomplished documentary, the sheer genius of Capote shines through. In a documentary that not only celebrates Truman Capote’s cultural legacy. But, also asks deeper questions about the bravery, meaning and resolve buried deep in his work and actions.

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