Thomas Lanier Williams III and Truman Streckfus Persons were two literary giants. Both set down in Key West. Williams had a house here on Duncan Street. Truman, known iconically as Truman Capote, visited the island in the early 1980s. In the biographical film “Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, there are more similarities.
The film begins with the two celebrated writers side by side via split screen as they appeared interviewed by David Frost. They are fraternal twins. Truman is dapper in black while Williams is nervous and wild-eyed, a bit like Poe.
Williams viewed writing as an organic element, basic and primeval, a cry from the heart. Capote sees the act of writing as something more ethereal and almost supernatural. He states that writing is like music. The act of writing is something angelic or purgatorial: “It’s a very excruciating life facing that blank piece of paper every day and having to reach up somewhere into the clouds and bring something down out of them.”
In this way, Capote is a verbal imp, either heavenly or hellish.
The film does not explicitly point to this but there are definite hints throughout. Williams is often wolfish and grinning with five o clock shadow. Capote is clean shaven cherubic and sly.
Williams plumbed the inside of the mind. Capote sought to be a be-speckled fly on the wall, writing down outside observations: the doomed predicament of Perry Smith or the vulnerability of a Marilyn, removed from the camera.
Both Capote and Williams know about each other in Italy but are skittish about seeing one another as they did in New York, blaming it on dogs and lovers.
As the film suggests, jealousy is the culprit.
Playfully, the film shows both of the writers at different times answering the same questions regarding sex and love.
Throughout the film it becomes evident that even though they might wish to separate themselves, both of them engage in the same pursuits. Williams and Capote both go to Studio 54 and socialize with Warhol. Both men had their portraits silk-screened by The Silver One.
In the end, one feels the most for Williams, perhaps the more solitary of the two, weary of his age and paranoid of others, while Truman distracted himself with parties and masks, although inwardly shattered by the stress of “In Cold Blood,” specifically Hickock and Smith’s death by hanging. Some have said that he was attracted to Perry. Whatever the case, Capote was never the same.
While this is a sketch rather than a full length portrait, it is lively, thoughtful, and catty with a colorful pop art edge. The voiceovers by Jim Parsons (Capote) and Zachary Quinto (Williams) are authentic and genuine, merging well with the legendary figures.
“Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” is an entertaining overview for anyone interested in these two masters of the Southern Gothic.
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