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The Crack Magazine

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The Capote Tapes

Director: Ebs Burnough

Part biography and part psychoanalysis session, director Burnough’s pacey documentary portrait of writer/socialite Truman Capote draws in large part from extensive taped interviews with Capote’s friends, colleagues and contemporaries, conducted by US journalist and commentator George Plimpton in 1990 for an oral history he was compiling.

It begins in 1966 at The Black and White Ball in New York where, high on the success of his book ‘In Cold Blood’, Capote invited five hundred of his ‘closest friends’ to a lavish party attended by politicians, celebrities, the good and the great. It’s an apt beginning, occurring at the nexus of when Capote’s writing career was at its most celebrated, and when his embrace of celebrity status and self-mythologizing was in full blossom.

The picture flashes back then forward to explore Capote’s impoverished childhood and the writing of ‘In Cold Blood’, before querying why ‘Unanswered Prayers’ his insider novel on moneyed New Yorkers, was never completed. 

‘Unanswered Prayers’ was reportedly based on the lives of ‘The Swans’, Babe Paley, Lee Radziwill, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli and Gloria Guinness, glamourous society women and wives to US mover and shakers who regarded Capote as a friend and confidante, and happily shared the latest gossip with him. But when parts of the book began to leak out, revealing apparently thinly-veiled details of their private lives, the woman felt bitterly betrayed, and the situation soured rapidly. Capote was disowned, and as the years passed, became more famous for this bitchy, self-parodic, drug-addled appearances on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ and visits to the bacchanalian coke-fuelled nightclub Studio 54, than any literary achievements.

While not much of this may be new to Capote devotees, the picture contains some fascinating and illuminating interviews, with Kate Harrington, the daughter of one of Capote’s former lovers who went to live with him, and witnessed his descent; and pugnacious writer Norman Mailer who admiringly recounts Capote’s fearlessness when the two went to a rough Irish bar in Manhattan.

The visuals serve as a perfect accompaniment, with Capote’s ascent in the NYC literary scene presented in crisp black and white (and soundtracked to a jaunty swinging jazz), while the latter days of drug use, gossipy interviews and drugged-up club appearances are conveyed via smudged and blurry video.

The Capote Tapes will be available at altitude.film and on all digital platforms across the UK and Ireland from 29 January.

David Willoughby 

Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm 

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