Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Williams’

“TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation” My rating: B (Now available through the Tivoli at the Nelson-Atkins)

86 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Truman and Tennessee” isn’t your standard-issue documentary biography.  Rather it’s a kind of verbal duel between two of the great literary figures of the late 20th century.

Novelist Truman Capote and playwright Tennessee Williams weren’t just major figures in mid-century American literature.  They were personal friends. Both shared a Southern heritage. Both were gay at a time when being openly gay was illegal. 

After brief biographical segments (my God, but young Truman Capote was cute), Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s film works through a series of topics, allowing her two subjects to comment on things like writing, fame, sex, their childhoods, phobias, relationships.

This is accomplished in a couple of ways.  First, we hear excerpts from the two author’s canons read by the unseen Jim Parsons (who nails Capote’s pitchy whine) and Zachary Quinto (as the voice of Williams).

Then there are various TV interviews the two did over the years…although never together.  In fact, there apparently is no footage here of both men in the same room.

But something weird and wonderful happens.  Turns out both men appeared on David Frost’s interview program within months of each other. They both sat on the same set (it has a very ‘60s pop art motif) and in both instances Frosts’s crew employed the same camera angles. Moreover,  Frost asked both men many of the same questions.

The result is an eerie joint commentary, with footage from various broadcasts woven together into a tapestry of friendship. The effect is that of Truman and Tennessee sitting side by side (even if they weren’t), lobbing ideas back and forth.

An unsung heroine here is film editor Bernadine Colish, who has done a terrific job of incorporating old photos, news footage, home movies and especially clips from film adaptations of the two men’s output (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Baby Doll,” “In Cold Blood” and many others).

The resulting film isn’t encyclopedic…rather it has a sort of impressionistic feel.  Yet because their own words have been so judiciously chosen by the filmmakers, we get terrific insights into Truman and Tennessee’s personalities.

Are there questions left unasked and unanswered?  Sure. But this doc isn’t about everything.  It’s about some things…some pretty wonderful things.

| Robert W. Butler

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