The Capote Tapes is released nationwide on all major digital platforms on 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? His legacy is undoubtedly a complicated one that lies in both his literary genius and the tragedy of his early death. But for me, his life and death are part of a bigger story that takes us far beyond his celebrity status and into 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 passion and talent opening the door to the New York celebrity circuit. But it is also the story of a constructed and homed public persona in a world where acceptance was hard to find.
Truman Capote never hid the fact that his writing was layered with elements of his personal history. For example, Breakfast at Tiffany’s would see him explore his estranged mother, while Other Voices, Other Rooms would explore his childhood and adolescent experiences. Capote found himself accepted and welcomed into the New York celebrity club built on his flamboyance, humour and artistry. However, as with all elite clubs, hidden rules surrounded his access and privilege, and while accepting Capote with open arms, his downfall would ultimately rest with his journalistic eye for the truth.
READ MORE: TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE
His final unfinished work, Answered Prayers, would openly share the secrets, gossip and knowledge he had acquired over years of active listening from the sidelines. But why did Capote risk it all with Answered Prayers? Debate and conversation have circulated on this for decades, with some pointing to his arrogance while others talk of his 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 in a similar vein to 2019’s Making Montgomery Clift, first-time documentary filmmaker Ebs Burnough delves into Capote’s life with a sharp, engaging and fascinating documentary of unheard tapes, home movies and photographs. Here the reel-to-reel recordings of George Plimpton focus on Capote’s life and work through interviews with friends, enemies and acquaintances. But does Burnough provide any fresh insight into Capote’s life and work? The answer is yes, especially when exploring Capote’s childhood, sexuality and eventual fame.
READ MORE: MAKE ME FAMOUS
On his move to New York in 1932, the teenage Truman attempted to rekindle his relationship with his estranged mother while attending school and working as a copyboy for The New Yorker. Capote was effeminate, small in stature and openly gay in a world where gay men were outcasts. However, Truman would never find his mother’s love or affection, eventually moving back to Alabama following his dismissal from The New Yorker to concentrate on his first novel. In many ways, Capote’s 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. Here The Capote Tapes is at its most fascinating as it explores Capote’s disconnect from the world around him.
Capote shielded himself from harm by embracing the unreal and secret world of the celebrity. His place in the elite group of aristocratic women he called his “swans” was otherworldly and fantastical in construct. Here he created an acceptable caricature that fit the world of parties, privilege and secrets surrounding him. However, beneath this veneer, Capote writhed with insecurity and doubt, his inquisitive mind constantly searching for meaning and belonging.
READ MORE: MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT
These insecurities and doubts were exposed as he submerged himself in the Kansas community of In Cold Blood alongside Harper Lee. Here his fascination with the local culture and community dovetailed with the reality of his own social exclusion. In many ways, this disconnect from reality and search for belonging helped create Capote; for example, his journalistic mind, like his inner world, questioned everything around him. Answered Prayers was to be his opus as he lifted the curtain on New York’s wealth and privilege; his final and explosive fuck you to the world.
But, Capote found himself 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. Here Capote knew exactly what he was doing with Answered Prayers – he was enacting a final bold act of defiance, one where he would pop the celebrity bubble he adored and despised in equal measure.
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