Though 13 years apart in age, mid-century American writers Truman Capote and (the elder) Tennessee Williams were longtime contemporaries, often friends and sometimes rivals. Both gay men in the midst of a cultural revolution—from the prim and proper 1940s to the free-love ’60s and beyond—their work would become canon in American literature, from page to stage to screen. With a background in biographical documentaries, filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland (granddaughter by marriage to the subject of her first film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel) weaves together their stories, from traumatic childhoods with neglectful parents to the heights of literary stardom, in Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation. Though the two never appear on screen together, the filmmaker smartly parallels their lives and media appearances, aligning their journeys in sometimes unexpected ways and creating something that truly feels like a conversation between the two men.
Both iconic authors in their own right, Capote and Williams certainly warrant documentaries of their own (and, surely, have them). So Immordino Vreeland’s decision to present both in a way that ties their lives and work together actually ends up adding more context to both men and their creative motivations and their experiences in the public eye. You may know Capote for his many short stories, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or In Cold Blood. You may know Williams for his many classic plays, from The Glass Menagerie to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But if, like me, you weren’t alive to appreciate these men and their new works as they published them, the film does a remarkable job of creating a sense of what it must’ve been like to experience it all firsthand. In addition to the archival interview footage, the filmmaker uses clips from film adaptations of both of their works, meaning the likes of Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh show up quite often as well. Additionally, actors Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons narrate the film through letters and writings from both men, Quinto as Williams and Parson as Capote.
At just under 90 minutes, Immordino Vreeland still manages to fit in quite a lot about both men, including their similarly traumatic childhoods and their experiences as gay men in a time when that wasn’t the accepted sexual orientation it is today, through to their later careers. If nothing else, Truman & Tennessee is an edifying exploration of two men whose work was groundbreaking when they created it and continues to be essential in American literary history. Told together, their collective impact on the zeitgeist then and now is all the more undeniable.
The film is now playing in theaters, including at Music Box Theatre.
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