The Capote Tapes review: packed with revelations on the human heart

 (Film handout)
(Film handout)

Someone is surely working on a script that explores the final years of the writer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hell, after watching this documentary, which makes gripping viewing of every second of Capote’s decline and fall, you may be tempted to write that script yourself.

First-time filmmaker Ebs Burnough makes use of audio tapes made in the late Nineties by the American journalist George Plimpton - who wrote the book Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career - featuring everyone from Lauren Bacall to Norman Mailer. She bulks these out with new witness accounts, most memorably from Kate Harrington, the young girl Capote effectively adopted when he became her father’s lover.

Harrington doesn’t sugar-coat the behaviour of her biological parents. The same goes for Kate Paley, daughter of Truman’s one-time friend, Babe. There’s a fairy tale aspect to many of these stories and it’s the mamas and papas, rather than Capote, who emerge as monsters.

Footage of the man, in his prime, is pleasantly confusing. Even when Truman’s being bitchy, his voice makes you want to hold his hand and buy him a popsicle.

Ultimately, however, he lost his power to disarm. He alienated his powerful pals, via the divisive, mysterious, unfinished “masterpiece”, Answered Prayers, and his self-belief never recovered. No one could deny the beauty and brilliance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but loneliness is the great leveller. Bewitched by the TV show couch, he snatched at any and all chances to make a spectacle of himself. In 1978, on a grotty little morning programme, he all but soiled himself in public.

This Truman show doesn’t contain much the tabloids would find interesting. But who cares? It’s packed with revelations about the human heart.

98mins 15. and on other digital platforms