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“Capote vs. the Swans” reveals the delicate nature of love through insidious gossip

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The author of the classics “In Cold Blood” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is the focus of the new season of “Feud” (Truman Capote Autographing His Book/Peggy O’Conner/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Gus Van Sant’s new season of the docudrama “Feud,” “Capote vs. the Swans,” is broadcast on FX and streaming on Hulu. It premiered on January 31, 2024. 

It portrays the true story of the alcoholic demise of famed author Truman Capote (Tom Hollander), as he fails to write his overdue novel. His intense memory and persistent extroverted charm allow him to recollect the juicy gossip of high society, and as he fails to produce material, he ignorantly and dangerously relies on this ability.

When excerpts from the novel are released, Capote’s relationship with his socialite friends is severely strained. The main friend group of which he refers to as the Swans, include Babe Paley (Naomi Watts), Slim Keith (Diane Lane) and C. Z. Guest (Chloë Sevingy).

What Van Sant makes of this piece of historical drama is a masterful showcase of the delicacy of love, minority acceptance, power and genius.

The depiction of Capote’s demeanor by Hollander as he declines is achingly sensitive. 

Over time, his once jovial wit becomes violently defensive, his meek whiny voice bends with a sense of alcoholism and his perplexing, ever-changing stare delivers pungent waves of emotion. 

Hollander’s slight changes in posture and composure show a dedication to perfecting the sensitive volatility of Capote in his moments of humor and strife.

The humor of Capote is perfectly blended with his melodrama. 

For example, at the beginning of episode one the gossipy humor between him and Babe is potently funny, but it also perfectly articulates the relationship of the two and makes their falling out even more tragic. Their conversational interplay makes one believe they’ve been friends for years, and with the gossip believable, personal and funny, it makes the viewer feel instantly included.

Though the reputations of the Swans are permanently damaged by Capote’s excerpt that detailed Babes husband’s affair, their sympathies for him remain in a precarious way.

C. Z. wants to forgive Capote, Slim never does and Babe is conflicted between the two groups, swaying back and forth to their whims under the pressure of their own friendship built on female empowerment, Capote’s demise and her husband’s affair.

Capote stands by his excerpts under claims that his work is art and that his literary reputation as an ardent teller of truth should protect him and warn others. However, the powerful Swans turn on him when he uses this defense, claiming that their reputations are more important than his art. The nature of his talent, and the ways it influenced them, is put into question. 

This questioning, compounding under the facets of the Swans aristocratic power, Capote’s brazen queerness and the large loom of patriarchal business society, investigate deeply into the ways in which reverence is relative and manipulative. 

However, the dullness of the show shines through at times. What could have been a celebration and critique of the dying nature of America’s aristocracy in the 1960’s, has been turned into a drama that feels, from the lighting, to the sets and the dialogue said by most characters who aren’t Capote, bland and all too regular.

Though, even if the sets blend in with the rest of what’s on TV, the script’s surprising sensitivity, never veering into coldness nor melodrama, reveals a quality that today’s hyperstimulated media of cheap drama and alienation lack.

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About the Contributor
Dominic Zdan
Dominic Zdan, Entertainment Editor
Dominic Zdan is a freshman and first-year journalism student. Outside of school he enjoys listening to music, specifically punk and older rock music, watching movies, reading classic literature and hanging out with friends.

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