Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is available in virtual cinemas & on Dogwoof on Demand from 30th April
How do you begin to assess the cultural impact of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams? Their genius continuing to inspire, enthral and captivate new audiences with every year that goes past. However, despite their vast body of work, the personal lives of both men have mainly remained unexplored on film. Their struggles as ‘out’ gay men in an America where conversion therapy and hate pervaded society lacking a dedicated voice. And yet, these struggles helped define their work, elevating their stories beyond mere fiction and ensuring their 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, a young, eager sixteen-year-old writer and Tennessee, a far more reserved twenty-nine-year-old. However, despite the differences in their personality, both men shared a deep south childhood, and both had the experience of challenging family lives. Equally, both men were gay, although Tennessee’s internal acceptance was fresh while Truman embraced his sexuality from his teens. On 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, the exploration of a friendship that was often explosive, fractured and difficult, but embedded in the need to belong and succeed in a heterosexual world.
Narrated by Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. The relationship between both men is brought to life through letters and soundbites, read by Quinto and Parsons, and archive interviews with David Frost and Dick Cavett. The narrative laced together with rare photos, movie clips and broader historical reflections. The result an artistic, bold and engaging documentary that reflects Truman and Tennessee’s genius while delving into the demons that sat just below the surface. Here, issues of homophobia, secrecy and fear surround the journey. The lives, careers and hopes of both men caught in a social trap of perceived immorality and public disgust. Capote, flying free in the face of public opinion as he embraced celebrity; Tennessee quietly settling down with one partner, his life far from the trappings of celebrity culture.
Despite the differing trajectories of both men, one thing remained true. Capote and William’s needed each other, both as competitors and intellectual sparring partners. But even deeper than that, they needed each other as gay men. Both men unapologetic, brave and forceful in their belief that literature and art knew no boundaries based on sexuality. And despite careers that ebbed and flowed with success, both Truman and Tennessee’s legacy was assured due to the strength of their character and formidable writing. However, that does not mean their strength and passion came without pitfalls. After all, both men struggled with addiction and failed to resolve many of the lingering pains of childhood experience. And it is here where Vreeland’s documentary is at its most heartfelt and emotional.
Truman and Tennessee may have been unapologetic and bold, but the society of their birth still restrained them. Their inner demons and depression resulting from a life lived on the edge of society. And while outwardly confident, both men feared failure and rejection in a world where gay men were more often than not pariahs. And when considering this point, I found myself thinking, how would both men react to our modern world? My thoughts ultimately leading to a vision of Truman as a Twitter junkie and social media star and Tennessee as a quiet activist and campaigner.
Of course, we will never know their thoughts about our modern world or their impact in helping to create it. But, one thing is without question, Truman and Tennessee’s work is just as striking, powerful and assured today as it was in the 50s and 60s. Their immortality in literature, art and film assured for generations to come. And I, for one, believe that if both men are looking down on us, it will be with a wry smile, a glass of bourbon and a man on each arm.