By John Snow
On October 9th, 2020, Lisa Immordino Vreeland released a documentary with the help of the production companies Fischio Films and Peaceable Assembly: Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation. It’s a story about two of the world’s greatest writers: Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. This documentary dives deep into both writers’ professional and personal lives, work, and journeys. The film was shown live in front of a live audience at the Michigan Theater as part of the State Theatre Cinetopia Film Festival. The Michigan Theater writes about the film, “The brilliant work, personal struggles, and cultural impact of iconic American writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams explodes onto the screen in this innovative dual-portrait documentary” (Forgie).
I was able to view this film both through the Michigan Theater virtual cinema and also through another platform called Vudu. The visuals from both platforms were very appealing as there was really no difference in sound effects or sound outputs through the speakers. Also, I would say that both platforms were reasonably priced for renting the film for 48 to 72 hours. In terms of the main comparison between virtual cinema and in-person at cinema was the visual output on both screens. Despite the screen being bigger at an in-person theater, the image relay was equally as good through the screen of a laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. However, the difference between the two cinemas is the sound projection because going in-person to a cinema means that the sound would have an echo throughout the theater. With virtual cinemas on smaller devices, audience members can adjust the volume projection to their liking, especially if they are wearing headphones.
The production teams and Lisa Vreeland were tasked with finding two people with voices that are similar to the main subjects. They made the perfect choices, with Jim Parsons voicing Truman Capote and Zachary Quinto voicing Tennessee Williams. The film felt authentic because the production teams elected to take raw footage of interviews that were done with both Truman and Tennessee that were from many years ago instead of hiring actors to play the characters and redo those interviews as if they were done in the present day. As Ela Bittencourt writes, “The film has few direct exchanges between Williams and Capote, but makes up for this lack by weaving their separate television appearances with other archival footage, the writers’ papers, collections and manuscripts, interviews, press clippings, and photographs (some famous, such as by Richard Avedon), to reconstruct their parallel paths to stardom.” Indeed, the original footage of those interviews is what makes this documentary pure.
Within the raw footage of the interviews, we get a variety of three-quarter shots where we have both men sitting in chairs and the camera shot is from their knees up to their heads. Sticking with the same interviews, the camera would often cut to a close-up shot to allow us to see the writers’ emotions (See Figures 1 & 2). I give the editorial team credit for the soundtrack throughout the film. To keep the authenticity of the original interviews, the filmmakers did not implement any non-diegetic music. The only soundtrack that was implemented was the selected background music during the voiceovers. The chosen music behind the voiceovers was spot-on. During serious topics, the music would either die down so that the voiceover can be heard more clearly or the music would increase in volume to give the viewer a sense of the intensity of the moment. Overall, the filmmakers did a fantastic job with the creativity and delivery of the documentary.
According to the New York Times, in this film “We hear the Southern-born authors on their writing habits, on how autobiography inflects their narratives, on their homosexuality and on substance abuse” (Kenigsberg). It is obvious that both these men had the same various hardships growing up. Being born in the South puts a strain on both of their sexual identities. Southern states today still have strong beliefs in sexual discrimination even though the Supreme Court has tried to add more protection for the LGBTQ+ community. “In a landmark decision on June 15, the court ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender workers from discrimination by their employers” (Jaffe 1961).
The documentary also shows that both writers lived in households where there were multiple forms of substance abuse. The early lives of both writers were rather rough. Unfortunately, all of these events and tragedies carried over into their later years. Isaac Simon writes, “While the film treats both men’s homosexuality and intimate relationships, its focus is elsewhere—on literary art, authorship, and the struggle to sustain the creative voice. Jealousy, betrayal, loneliness, love, broken families—these were the subjects to which both writers returned often. And Hollywood returned frequently to adapt Williams’s work. Neither man could escape his own tragic end—Williams by drug overdose, Capote by alcoholism.” Alcoholism is definitely a concern with gay and bisexual men even today. “High levels of problem drinking, measured as heavy episodic drinking, binge drinking, and/or hazardous drinking, are recorded in recent cross-sectional studies of gay and bisexual men” (Roth).
This film also covers the issues of freedom of expression within the LGBTQ+ community. During one of the interviews with Truman Capote, he was asked if love and friendship were the same thing. This question was asked because it was already well known that he was gay and it is kind of a stereotype that homosexuals treat friendships as a loving type of relationship. Truman answered that love and friendship were not the same thing. Despite Williams not being asked the same question, Capote answered it saying that you cannot have both a love type of relationship and a friendship with the same person; that it has to be one or the other. Also, when asked which one is more important, Truman answered “friendships” because friends are people that you can rely on at any point in your life. He implies that it is important to maintain friendships with anyone of any sexual identity because you never know when you may need them for guidance and assistance.
Overall, I enjoyed the documentary and would recommend it to anyone. The presentation of the film with the voiceovers was absolutely flawless. Every piece of raw original footage of the interviews was not interfered with by sound effects or music. The flow of the combination of interviews, photos, and voiceovers was smooth to the last detail. The greatest thing about the film was that it was full of authenticity.
Bittencourt, Ela. “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation.” Sight and Sound, vol. 31, no. 5, 2021, pp. 73–73.
Forgie, Ben. “Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation – Streaming Starting 6/18 in Our Virtual Movie Palace!” Michigan Theater Foundation. Michigan Theater Foundation, 01 July 2021. Web. 11 Dec. 2021.
Kenigsberg, Ben. “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation.” New York Times, vol. 170, no. 59093, 2021.
Jaffe, Susan. “LGBTQ Discrimination in US Health Care Under Scrutiny.” The Lancet, vol. 395, no. 10242, 2020, pp. 1961, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31446-X.
Roth, Eric Abella, et al. “Repeated Measures Analysis of Alcohol Patterns among Gay and Bisexual Men in the Momentum Health Study.” Substance Use & Misuse, vol. 53, no. 5, 2018, pp. 816–827, doi:10.1080/10826084.2017.1388259.
Simon, Isaac. “Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation.” Cineaste, vol. 47, no. 1, 2021.