Your capacity to enjoy this ‘intimate conversation’ between US writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams will depend on having either a pre-existing interest in one or other of them, or a high tolerance for archness. This is an arch film about two extremely arch men, so the cumulative effect is pretty… arch. Capote was just 16 when he met Williams, 13 years his senior. They were never lovers, but their relationship was one of the most enduring of their lives. It ranged from mutual respect to flat-out sour bitchiness. Both men confess to jealousy being a huge motivation in their behaviour, and they were unsparing in their criticisms of each other’s success.
This well-crafted doc is at its most engaging in teasing out the parallels between them. Gay, alcoholic, witty and barbed, both men paraded their grand guignol Southern ‘otherness’ for an audience of fascinated New Yorkers. Williams describes the South as ‘like Tsarist Russia’, referring to his love of Chekhov. He also says stuff like ‘I won’t travel on a plane with two nuns’, explaining that superstition is another Deep South trait. Capote endured teenage male hormone shots to cure his homosexuality, and says things like ‘memories are always breaking my heart’ (autobiographical extracts are read by Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto).
It’s kind of bonkers to watch them even in our – ostensibly – more inclusive times. The effect they must have had in the 1950s is hard to imagine. There’s some great footage of David Frost trying to interview both of them (separately) and failing spectacularly. Williams says he ‘had to create an imaginary life’ to get through his early years, and Capote is an even more extraordinary self-creation, from gilded youth to Gollum-like social troll. You feel that their fame is what broke both Williams and Capote. The former’s star waned as Broadway moved on; the latter descended into recriminatory tell-all magazine articles, losing him his last few friends.
It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Capote: he was clearly a pretty loathsome character. Williams is more elusive, though: a man whose passions were repressed and distorted by his background and the age he lived in, channelled into his ferocious overwrought dramas. What is extraordinary here is the sheer determination of these two writers to stake their claim on a twentieth-century America that found them ghoulishly compelling but deep-down often hated and feared them.
Available on VOD in the UK Fri Apr 30.