Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is available on Dogwoof on Demand from 30th April
How do you even begin to assess the cultural impact of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams? After all, their genius continues to inspire, enthral and captivate new audiences with every year that goes past, their works as powerful today as they were on publication. However, despite their vast body of plays and novels, the personal lives of both men have remained largely unexplored in film – their shared journey as ‘out’ gay men at a time of oppression lacking a dedicated voice. And yet, it was these struggles that, in part, helped define their work, elevating their stories beyond mere fiction while ensuring immortality. It is, therefore, no wonder that both men found friendship and solace with each other, even if their chosen paths often diverged.
Truman and Tennessee met in 1940; Capote was a young, eager sixteen-year-old writer, and Tennessee was a far more reserved and quiet twenty-nine-year-old. However, despite the differences in their personality, both men shared similar childhoods in the deep South of the US and had experienced challenging family lives. Equally, both men were gay, although Tennessee had only recently found peace with this while Truman had embraced his sexuality from his teens. During that initial meeting, neither man could have dreamed of the success that would come their way or the demons that would circle that success. It is here where Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s beautiful, intimate and enriching documentary starts. Her mission is the exploration of a friendship that was explosive, fractured and often difficult, yet also embedded in a need for comfort in a heterosexual world.
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Narrated by Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto, the relationship between Truman and Tennessee is brought to life through handwritten letters, rare photos, movie clips and archive interviews with David Frost and Dick Cavett. The result is an artistic, bold and engaging documentary that reflects upon the genius of Truman and Tennessee and delves into the demons that sat just below the surface. Here, issues of homophobia, secrecy and fear surround their shared journey, with Capote opting to embrace celebrity as a wall of protection. At the same time, Tennessee quietly settled down with a partner, shunning public life.
However, despite their different trajectories, one thing remained in place, Truman and Tennessee needed each other. Here they were competitors and intellectual sparring partners but also gay men who believed that literature and art could change the world. Of course, as with all artists, their careers would ebb and flow, sometimes finding success and public scorn and controversy. For example, both men struggled with addiction and failed to resolve the lingering pain of their childhood experiences fully.
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Truman and Tennessee may have been unapologetic and bold, but the society of their birth still restrained them. Their inner demons and depression were the result of a life lived on the edge of society, their outward confidence masking a deep-seated fear of failure and rejection. When considering this point, I wondered how both men would react to our modern world. My thoughts ultimately led to a vision of Truman as a Twitter junkie and Tik Tok star and Tennessee as a quiet activist and campaigner. Of course, this is mere speculation on my part and serves no real purpose. But it does talk to the characters of two very different men who thrived on each other. Truman and Tennessee’s work is just as striking, powerful and assured today as it was on release, and here both men have found immortality whether they sort it or not. So maybe they are looking down on us with a wry smile, a glass of bourbon and a man on each arm. I genuinely hope they are.
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