The name Truman Capote will be familiar to fans of classic cinema, classic literature or if you are a big Philip Seymour-Hoffman fan. Many still quote his works on novels and films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. To this day the man and his works are still celebrated, with numerous studies on both Capote’s work and personal life. Yet, despite knowing the name, I myself knew little about him outside of his name and a few titles.
A documentary about Capote would be the best way to learn of the man and that is what the new film The Capote Tapes offers. A documentary similar to an increasing number of documentaries lately. We follow the life of Capote through interviews with people who knew him personally, or at least followed his life, and footage and images from times and events in his life. There is no narration, only Capote’s personal audio, or what audio comes with the footage or interviews. At points we get songs and music to tell us where we are in time.
The structure is simple enough and works effectively. It has an excellent flow, never feeling like it is slowing down or broken up by a change in time or topic. Much like the celebrated work, it reads like poetry. For such a short film (barely more than 90 minutes) an incredible amount of time is covered. The footage is incredibly well restored, with very few feeling like they were ripped from video. Even the people being interviewed, especially Capote’s adopted daughter, were all interesting to listen to. They all had great voices and knew how to tell a story. All of this is leading to the conclusion that it is a well-presented documentary.
The issue is, as stated above, I knew little about Capote going into this. While The Capote Tapes is also there to entertain, it is here to educate as well. And I felt that, once it was over, I knew about as much as I did about Capote going into the film. For how well presented The Capote Tapes was, it did not really tell us much about Capote at all. There was the fact that his was an unhappy childhood, that he was openly gay in a world that shunned homosexuality, that he was very outgoing and ultimately and tragically self-destructive. But that is all common knowledge, and it doesn’t divulge more than stating the facts and giving one or two examples of that happening.
Perhaps a longer runtime to flesh out certain point would have been beneficial. At the same time, there is a limited number of tapes and material to work from without it feeling padded out. It was just unfortunate that it didn’t teach much. This affected the enjoyment of the viewing as well, making it feel longer than it was. It feels like a shame to say so, because the film itself is well made.
Certainly, people who already have an interest in Capote will find love here. For everyone else it will likely leave you feeling wanting. Looking up on Capote does show that he was an interesting man to say the least. It is just a shame that such a well presented film could not be so too.
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