Review by Sean Boelman
Any list of the most notable authors of the 20th century would be incomplete without a mention of Truman Capote, who lived a life almost as interesting as his work. Yet despite the fact that the subject is so interesting, Ebs Burnough’s documentary The Capote Tapes is too traditional in its execution to be noteworthy.
The film explores Capote’s posthumously-published unfinished novel Answered Prayers, the impact it had, and how it reflected his life as a whole. With Capote being such a well-known figure in the literary world, it will definitely take more than a traditional biography to interest informed viewers, and while there is an element of specificity to this movie, it still leans back on formula a bit too often.
One of the issues with Burnough’s approach is that he attempts to cover so much ground in so little time. With a runtime clocking in at under an hour and forty minutes, it is impossible for the film to dive into the content of Answered Prayers in addition to Capote’s role in the literary and LGBTQ communities.
It’s clear that this is meant to be the type of movie where the filmmaker pulls back the curtain on a well-known individual whose personal life has been very well-documented in the media, but so much of what we see is stuff that has already been discussed many times before. There isn’t a whole lot of new or original insight to be found here.
Capote’s personality is iconically eccentric, and yet Burnough is unable to really translate that to this documentary effectively. Interviews with people who knew Capote serve as a sort of testimony as to how unique and interesting of a person he was, but there definitely would have been better ways of getting this across.
The movie also features a lot of archive material (as implied by the title), but Burnough doesn’t seem to know how to use it as a first-time director. It often feels as if we are just being shown this footage, rather than seeing it integrated into an overall narrative, and the result is that it doesn’t have the impact it should.
As a whole, the film straddles that line where it is competently-made but doesn’t have the level of creativity or uniqueness to make it memorable. There needed to be a lot more energy to the movie, or at least a more pronounced sense of style. Instead, what we get is something that is almost sterilized in nature.
The Capote Tapes has an enormously fascinating subject but doesn’t do justice to his image. It definitely hurts the film that there have been other movies about Truman Capote that are far more compelling and dynamic.
The Capote Tapes is now in theaters and virtual cinemas.