The Capote Tapes gives a fascinating insight into the literary giant's troubled life

THE CAPOTE TAPES

(15) 91mins

★★★★☆

A FAVOURITE motto of the late, great Truman Capote was fellow American writer Mark Twain’s advice: “Don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

But in this Capote biopic, there is no need to make up any of the great man’s flamboyant life story.

He is famed for 1958 New York society novella Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which spawned the movie starring Audrey Hepburn, and for 1966 true-crime opus In Cold Blood, also adapted for cinema.

The main focus of debut director Ebs Burnough’s documentary is newly discovered tapes of interviews by the late American journalist George Plimpton with Capote’s high-society friends — many of whom later became his enemies.

DRINK AND DRUGS

Capote, who died in 1984 aged 59, was an enigmatic, complex figure. Just 5ft 2in, openly gay when being so was very dangerous and with a high-pitched, lispy voice, he readily called himself “a freak”.

He admits to having acted the extrovert to cover up insecurities. This showmanship, plus his great talent as a writer, earned him many friends and admirers among New York’s celebrities and social elite.

But little did they know, every snippet of gossip they shared with Capote, he was secretly writing down for epic society novel Answered Prayers.

This was to be his social downfall after he published a few sections, though the book remained unfinished when released two years after his death.

Capote’s thinly veiled assassinations of characters who had regarded him as a friend made him a pariah — rejected by the beautiful people.

This set him on a path of drink, drugs and self-destruction.

His demise is the theme of this documentary but it also gives a fascinating insight into the writer’s humble and troubled beginnings — raised by relatives in Alabama after his parents split when he was four and his mum then abandoned him to escape to New York for a better life.

The film feels, at times, a little disjointed — jumping ahead years or giving hazy explanations of certain relationships. But it is spectacular, too, such as when Capote throws a star-studded masked ball in New York in 1966.

This sealed his reign over the city and the images, mixed with detailed description from guests, bring it to life.

It is a reminder of why the little man remains a literary giant.

  • Released on digital formats.

BEGINNING

(18) 124mins

★★★☆☆

IN a quiet rural town in the country of Georgia, an extremist group sets fire to a small Jehovah’s Witness church as a sermon is being delivered, forcing traumatised parents and children to flee screaming as the flames rage.

From this explosive beginning the embers of Beginning settle to a slower pace to explore the bleak and troubling life of Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), a desolate mother, wife, and missionary.

Married to Jehovah faith leader David (Rati Oneli) with son Giorgi (Saba Gogichaishvili), former actress Yana now teaches the children Bible studies.

After David leaves town to discuss the incident with church Elders, Yana is abused by a man claiming to be an officer investigating the case.

This culminates in an explicit rape scene made all the more harrowing by the camera’s static gaze.

Religion, relationships, fulfilment and the sense of self are all explored in this arty and technically admirable but often deeply uncomfortable watch.

Dea Kulumbegashvili, the director, emphasises Yana’s disassociation using lengthy fixed shots, as if you are viewing the events on CCTV footage.

However, the subdued pace borders on self-indulgent at times.
Accomplished but unsettling.

  • Out on MUBI.com

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ASSASSINS

(12) 104mins

★★★☆☆

LIKE any decent murder mystery, this documentary begins with a seemingly clear-cut culprit.

When Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s despotic leader Kim Jong-un, was poisoned with a nerve agent in a busy Malaysian airport four years ago, the assassins’ identity appeared obvious.

CCTV images showed two women smearing lethal VX on his face before calmly walking away and going into the toilets to wash their hands.

They even smiled bravely at the camera and made sure not to touch anything. Kim Jong-nam was dead within 20 minutes.

But this film, from director Ryan White, goes on to reveal a very different version of the events that led to his murder.

What unfolds is a tale involving political intrigue, a sophisticated hit team, an excellent set of defence lawyers and two exploited poor immigrants.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un might have a silly haircut but is smarter than he looks.

Anyone who has delved into this case might be disappointed that it doesn’t offer much fresh information. But for those who don’t know the ins and outs, Assassins will be an entertaining watch.

Grant Rollings

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