Confession time. Truman Capote was one of the great queer iconic figures of the 20th Century that we would have loved to have known personally. Not the version of him in the biopic Capote that won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Academy Award back in 2006. It’s the ‘real’ Capote that is captured in a new documentary by first time filmmaker Ebs Burnough , a one time White House Adviser to Michelle Obama.
Burnough’s film centers around a series of never-before-heard taped interviews in which George Plimpton interviewed Capote’s “friends, enemies, acquaintances, and detractors” for his 1997 oral history of Capote. Burnough supplements these with some stunning archival footage, and interspersed with his own interviews most of which focuses on Capote’s promised last novel Answered Prayers that never ever materialised.
Capote was an extraordinary character quite unlike anyone else. He pursued Manhattan’s high society and once he was practically accepted as one of them, he repaid them all with thinly-veiled vicious attacks exposing them for their vapous materialistic and outrageously wealthy existences. He was as one of his coterie of female hangers-on described a real ‘shit stirrer.’
It was the many contradictions of his life that are the most fascinating. Already riding high on the critical and commercial success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote is offered a choice of new assignments. One is another Manhattan society event, the other is a serial killing in Kansas. He of course chose the latter and it would take up the next few years of his life
‘In Cold Blood’ would become the definitive murder story and the peak of Capote’s writing career. However there is talk in the documentary not only of his close relationship with Perry Smith one of the killers , but how in the end with the Appeals dragging one for years, he somehow persuaded the Authorities to get on with Smith;s execution so he could finish the book.
If that was the summit of this professional career then the highlight in his private life was hosting the fabled masked Black + White Ball in 1966 Ostensibly in honor of The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Capote was suddenly the centre of society’s universe as he dangled the prized invitations for months, snubbing early supporters.
Sadly desperately would-be Capotes these days like the ubiquitous André Leon Talley are a very pale shadow to this larger-than-life queer with his wicked wit happily exposing the hypocrisy of all the society diaries who had adored him.
After this time Capote threaten to keep writing but in fact became a full-time celebrity and a very regular guest on all the TV Talk Shows. When this coincided with his nightly visits to Studio 54 where he participated in EVERYTHING, then he would start to appear on TV incoherent still high on whatever he took the night before.
What is a very interesting take away from Burnough’s film was that whilst his coterie of high society dames couldn’t wait to dump him after he stopped being a willing plaything, he always kept the respect of his fellow writers. The likes of Norman Mailer, Dotson Rader, Jay McInerney and Colm Tóibín lined up to talk affectionately about both man and his works.
Surprisingly too Jack Dunphy, Capote’s long time lover. who must have had the patience of a Saint (!) had nothing but good words to talk about him.
Whether he had actually written ‘Answered Prayers‘ is still unanswered, but it the manuscript does ever show up, it will be another humdinger.
Whenever he turned his attention to write about the unhappy rich he never bothered to hide his contempt. They hated him for what they considered a betrayal, but what we would think would make for a perfect TV soap opera nowadays.
We have nothing but admiration for Capote …. who died way too early aged just 59 ….and so loved this excellent portrait of him. He was as Dick Cavett commented ‘ a ballsy little guy‘, but even so we are still not sure whether we would have liked him as a friend.
P.S. The movie can be screened at the moment via https://www.provincetownfilm.org/festival/ Virtual Cinemas after that check https://greenwichentertainment.com/film/the-capote-tapes/for future screenings.