Review: The Capote Tapes

Score: C

Director: Ebs Burnough

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rated: NR

If you knew absolutely nothing about Truman Capote, then The Capote Tapes would be a good place to start. But if you've read his work, seen his appearances in film and on TV, or even browsed his Wikipedia page, there's nothing new here.

The hook of the film is a cache of tapes of interviews George Plimpton conducted with Capote's inner circle in the 1980s. But there's nothing revelatory on any of them. The documentary charts Capote's rise and fall, but any fan already knows the highlights. He came from the South, wrote several beloved works, then essentially lived as a celebrity and media personality for the rest of his life. His sexuality was an open secret, and he indulged in a hedonistic lifestyle, including drug abuse. His quick wit and penchant for gossip made him both friends and enemies.

This overview wouldn't be so bad if the doc itself had any style. But this debut from Ebs Burnough is as straightforward as they come. Since a lot of allegedly juicy quotes are audio only, we are treated to endless stock footage of people walking through New York City or zooming in and out of a black-and-white photo of Capote with whomever the person is talking about at that given moment. For someone as outlandish as Capote, this makes the film quite dull.

Two scenes do stand out: one at Capote's height of fame and power, the other at his lowest. The former features incredible video and photos from an epic masquerade ball he threw after returning from Kansas and completing In Cold Blood. The party received a massive spread in Vogue, including the full guest list. That ended up being a major influence on African-American fashion icon Andre Talley. The latter chronicles the fallout from the publication of a chapter from Answered Prayers in Esquire. After decades of compiling some of the craziest stories from New York's social elite, his barely fictionalized tales earned the ire of many. Ostracized, he slipped further into addiction. Focusing on either could have made for a compelling short.

The Capote Tapes certainly isn't bad, but what Capote himself might deem worse: It's inessential.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.