The Capote Tapes
- Emma Simmonds
- 25 January 2021
Insightful and entertaining documentary about the esteemed writer and cultural icon
Described by teary-eyed talk show host Dick Cavett as a 'ballsy little guy', the incomparable Truman Capote is remembered with affection and resentment in this fascinating film from debut director-producer Ebs Burnough. As his USP, Burnough has audio tapes of George Plimpton's previously unheard interviews with leading cultural figures of the time, talking about their sometimes-fraught relationships with Capote, but he adds a number of revealing new video confessions to the mix, and has a wealth of archive footage featuring the far-from-publicity-shy Capote himself to keep things deliciously witty.
Centring his documentary intriguingly around the writer's unfinished manuscript Answered Prayers – which Capote eventually started referring to as his 'posthumous novel', due to his struggle to complete it – Burnough drops in a few tantalising extracts. Only three chapters of this story set in the world of NYC jet-setters were ever published and they prompted a scandal and cost Capote several friends, as it transpired that he had been using the real lives of his society buddies as juicy material.
One former pal, Slim Keith, spoke to Plimpton following the fallout, while Capote's long-time lover Jack Dunphy and such esteemed persons as Norman Mailer and Lauren Bacall are interviewed about their own experiences of Truman, while talking heads like Capote's adopted daughter Kate Harrington and old mucker Dotson Rader bring invaluable insight to the table.
The film strikes a successful balance between offering decent background on its subject and digging into individually interesting episodes, like his infamous trip to Kansas to research In Cold Blood. Although Plimpton knew Capote well and his parties were the centre of the literary scene, unlike the recent Billie Holiday doc, simply titled Billie, The Capote Tapes doesn't get side-tracked by the story of its interviewer.
Capote's complexity as a character – from humble, troubled beginnings to his prized spot amongst the New York glitterati, the fact that he was unable to shake the stigma that came with being unashamedly gay and wore his wit and flamboyance like armour – gives his story a real richness. It's a film that draws on a number of noteworthy sources as it takes us behind the bitchy façade.
Available to watch on demand from Fri 29 Jan.