“Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” is a lyrical throwback

Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary shifts the writers’ prose and characters to the screen.


Typically when we talk about a documentary we mean a film that captures, preserves, documents a subject. With his new film Truman and Tennessee: an intimate conversation, director Lisa Immordino Vreeland turns the genre upside down and becomes a work of non-fiction about the documents themselves. Compiled painstakingly from libraries and archives of all kinds, it gives us an in-depth look into the lives of two famous literary enemies of the 20th century, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, told exclusively in their own words.

It’s a brilliant project considering how much these queer literary icons have written and said a lot, especially about each other. Vreeland uses diaries, letters and autobiographies to show how these two men turned life into art. Since Capote and Williams had such a knack for demanding prose, this comes with a rarely seen and essential glimpse into their minds and ideas.

Capote and Williams led tortured inner lives, each turning to parties and drugs to meet their mutual assertiveness needs. What Vreeland is able to do so skillfully here is tie some of that need to their weirdness by allowing everyone to tell their own stories firsthand. In doing so, we are privileged to have firsthand accounts of growing up and being gay in the twentieth century, and the effects that these difficulties can have on a person’s psyche.

What’s also great is the way the film juxtaposes the uses of its primary sources, from these writers to archival TV footage. Sometimes they delve deeper into topics covered in interviews such as love, sex, jealousy, women’s writing, New York, Studio 54, loneliness and their deepest fears. But a couple of times we see a clip of Capote or Williams on a talk show, usually Sir David Frost, in which the writers say one thing before revealing something else entirely in private. Most biographical documentaries attempt to distinguish between private and public life, but Vreeland’s one excels because she found the right passages depending on the topic.

But while the whole movie is fascinating to watch, the most mind-boggling moment is indeed in the credits when Vreeland finally lists all of his sources. The huge amount of research posted faltering. Throughout the film we are treated to lyrical and moving passages with a Jarman-like overlay of surreal images of grainy film footage that seems too perfectly matched, words too perfect for what Vreeland is trying to capture. And yet this massive bibliography shows that everything told by Capote (voiced by Jim Parsons) or Williams (voiced by Zachary Quinto) is true and with their own hands.

Given this unprecedented level and breadth of intimate access to the inner lives of these men, it’s no surprise that Vreeland comes dangerously close to confusing the creative and the autobiographical. As we walk through the careers of these men chronologically, we are treated to snippets from the stories of some of the greatest figures in American culture like Holly Golightly, Blanche DuBois, Perry Smith, and Amanda Wingfield.

Most biographical documentaries attempt to distinguish between private and public life, but Vreeland’s one excels because she found the right passages depending on the topic.

While Capote and Williams suggest infrequent use of autobiographical content, particularly the latter in the case of Glass factory, Vreeland leaves them little time to explain all the creative things they’ve come up with and put into their stories or characters. This, in turn, defeats the intended purpose and risks confining this work to only biographical interpretation instead of works larger than their author.

One notable social topic that is missing is the subject of race. Capote and Williams have a troubling relationship with racial characters (see end of Suddenly last summer), and it would have been interesting to hear a twentieth-century cis queer take on issues of race and civil rights. Maybe it wouldn’t have painted either one in its best light, but we would have a more complete picture if we had had time to consider for a moment the importance of their whiteness alongside their weirdness. , their class and their masculinity.

Nonetheless, Vreeland has given us the most complete and intimate portrait possible through his intensive research and composition. When your documentary is about such prolific and colorful writers, you don’t need a screenwriter. Words are for you. What Truman and Tennessee: an intimate conversation brilliantly demonstrates that one of the roles a director can play is that of a scholastic compiler. This technique brilliantly and compassionately allows the two writers to present their ideas, their queerness and themselves in their own lyrical terms.

Truman and Tennessee: an intimate conversation is now in select cinemas and virtual cinemas via KinoMarquee.

Truman and Tennessee: an intimate conversation Trailer:

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