Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland has created this intimate conversation between them, drawing on meticulously researched material from film, television and print archive with actors Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto skilfully voicing Truman and Tennessee respectively, using words from the writers’ books and other published pieces. And though we never actually see the two men together, apart from in a handful of photos, we do indeed get the impression of a lifelong, ongoing conversation.
They were both gay and had friends in common but there is no suggestion of any physical relationship between them Although the two writers shared similar backgrounds – difficult childhoods in the Deep South with absent fathers leading to depression and ultimately alcoholism in adulthood – their approach to life was very different. This is well illustrated in a very effective sequence cutting between television interviews they both did with British journalist David Frost, who questions them forensically about their experience of love and what it is – so forensically that it appears he is desperate for an answer to the question in his own life. Tennessee’s answers are thoughtful and self probing: Truman’s evasive, witty and smartarse.
When it comes to illustration of the work there is an abundance of clips from the films of Tennessee’s plays – Streetcar, The Fugitive Kind (from the play Orpheus Descending) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which also remind us of the beauty and charisma of the young Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Tennessee once remarked that he would be remembered in the future for the films of his plays, not the plays themselves, so the films had better be good. Usually they were.
In contrast all we have on celluloid of Truman’s work is some shots of the gorgeous Hepburn as Holly and a handful of clips from the 1967 film of his dark non fiction novel In Cold Blood about a true life multiple murder. There are no clips from the two twenty first century feature films about Truman, where he was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones. Tennessee as far as I know, has never been played by an actor, though you could argue that he is there in the performances of the women in his work.
Truman loved mixing with celebrities and revelled in his own celebrity. Tennessee was more thoughtful. He lived to write, was an admirer of Chekov and drew on his own psyche to create some of the greatest and most moving female characters in modern literature. When Truman finally published just two chapters of his long gestating work Answered Prayers in 1975 it included a cruel portrait of Tennessee, which must have hurt him. Yet towards the end of his life Tennessee wrote to Truman “I care about you more than you know”.
Both men died of their addictions within a short time of each other – Tennessee in 1983, Truman in 1984. For me Truman would have been an amusing acquaintance but not one to be trusted. Tennessee I would have loved to have had as a friend.
Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is available on demand across the UK and Ireland from 30th April