The Capote Tapes




A rewarding look at the life of one of America's most famous writers.

Capote Tapes, The

We have already had filmed dramas drawing on the life of the gay author Truman Capote - he was played by Toby Jones in Infamous (2006) and by Philip Seymour Hoffman the year before in Capote - but that leaves ample room for a documentary feature looking at his life as a whole and here it is. The one oddity about this piece by Ebs Burnough is its title. It is indeed the case that the film makes use of audiotapes about Capote recorded by the celebrated journalist George Plimpton who died in 2003. Nevertheless, even though extracts from them are heard on the soundtrack, this is never a major feature. Instead The Capote Tapes is in truth a straightforward standard-form documentary biopic blending new interviews with archive footage and considering Capote's life in chronological order. It's a format that works perfectly well here.


A number of people make significant contributions: among them are Kate Harrington who was treated like an adopted daughter by Capote, Dotson Rader a gay friend of his, the art historian John Richardson and two notable fellow writers, Jay McInerney and Colm Toíbín. Voices from the past are heard too courtesy of those tapes including Norman Mailer, Lauren Bacall and a number of the female socialites taken up by Capote and described by him as his swans. Just occasionally Burnough chooses to insert unnecessary and unconvincing shots that purport to illustrate what is being said, but for the most part this debut feature is ably handled.


Although Truman Capote acquired fame and fortunes his life can be seen as a tragic one. Famous for the ground-breaking gay novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, for the innovative creation of what became known as the non-fiction novel (In Cold Blood) and for that New York classic Breakfast at Tiffany's, Capote would yet assert "People don't love me. I'm a freak". It was in any case his literary success that led to him being accepted as a celebrity in New York and some would say that he never found the love that he really craved.


No one can be certain whether or not Capote ever completed the novel Answered Prayers which, like the 8th symphony of Sibelius, was always being promised. It's a subject discussed here but all that is certain is that the three chapters that did appear lost him friends, people who were all too easily identifiable in the novel's characters who were portrayed in a cruelly satirical light. That Capote then turned to a new role as a welcome TV talk show guest and became a participant in the life-style of Studio 54 may have kept him going, but the toll taken by alcohol and drugs would lead to his death at the age of 59. Admire him or pity him, this film offers plenty of insights as it looks back on a life which, whatever your attitude, can only be regarded as extraordinary.




Featuring  Kate Harrington, Colm Toíbín, Jay McInerney, Dotson Rader, Sally Quinn, John Richardson, Jack Dunphy, Sadie Stein, André Leon Talley, Lewis Lapham, Dick Cavett.


Dir Ebs Burnough, Pro Ebs Burnough, Lawrence Elman and Holly Whiston, Screenplay Holly Whiston, Ph Antonio Rossi, Ed David Charap and Allen Charlton.


Hatch House Media Production/Mville Films-Altitude Film Distribution.
91 mins. USA/UK. 2019. Rel: 29 January 2021. Available on BFI Player. Cert. 15.