SIFF 2021 Review: Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation

Year: 2020

Runtime: 86 minutes

Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Actors: Jim Parsons, Zachery Quinto

By Joan Amenn

“What we most want is only to be held…and told…

that everything is going to be alright.”-Truman Capote

Rather than a linear narrative about a single literary life, “Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” (2020) ambitiously combines two. Not only that, but it also lends the acting talents of Jim Parsons as Truman Capote and Zachery Quinto as Tennessee Williams as each reads from selected letters, journals and notes that they wrote to and about each other. The actual authors are also shown being interviewed in archival footage in this engrossing but not necessarily revealing documentary by Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

Both Williams and Capote had troubled childhoods and would struggle with alcoholism, drug dependency and depression. This is already well known. Out of their mutual trauma came their greatest inspirations and their shared experiences brought them together in a friendly rivalry, at least at first.

They also shared a common sexual orientation that was not socially accepted in the 1940’s when they were young and just tasted their first claims to fame. In 1945, Williams had his first stage hit with the loosely autobiographical “The Glass Menagerie” and Capote would have his first acclaimed book, “Other Voices, Other Rooms’ in 1948. According to Capote, he never was concerned with what people thought of him being openly homosexual but Williams was more reserved and circumspect about his personal life. Eventually they both entered long term relationships with William’s ending in heartbreak when his partner, Frank Merlo, died of lung cancer in 1963.

The actors who read from both author’s texts do a very good job of not mimicking their unique speaking styles too closely. However, this has the disconcerting effect of sometimes making the actual voices of each man sound like caricature as if they were deliberately amplifying the speech patterns that the actors downplayed. It might have been better if the choice were made to use only the actors with recreated interviews so that this distraction did not detract from the power of what each wrote and spoke.

 As performed by Parsons and Quinto, a great deal of the musings of both men are deeply touching, especially their reflections on their painful pasts. They both truly sound like little boys lost as adults who only want to be loved and accepted as they never were. Rather than comforting each other as kindred spirits, fame, jealousy, and resentment creeped into their friendship and forever tarnished it. So much loneliness and anguish fueled such great writing, with the cost being so high for each man. “Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” inspires a revisiting of each author’s work to appreciate their genius again.


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