Birchard and Konrad
Hopkins meet in a cafe at Glasgow University
(in Scotland). A lively conversation ensues and a compelling story
emerges, a true tale more than fifty years old - how a young sergeant
in the USAF wrote a fan letter to playwright Tennessee
Williams, who responded immediately with a letter
of his own - a letter containing a truly startling revelation.
As their correspondence got hotter, Williams
labored on Camino Real, feverishly trying to
get his new play in shape for its Broadway opening. Hopkins got
a furlough from the Air Force and went to New York where he met
Tennessee a day or two before Camino
Real's New York premiere. What happened then - disturbing,
shocking, hilarious and sobering - can only be discussed between
& Me & Tennessee!
Paul Birchard writes:
first occurred to me to make a movie about the romance between
Konrad Hopkins and Tennessee
Williams, I realized that
two films I’d seen quite some time ago had left powerful
impressions on me, and would shape the way I approached this
Mr. Hoover and I, by Emile de Antonio,
and the other was My Dinner
With André, directed by Louis Malle.
Dinner With André is of course just that –
a reunion of two old friends – the writer/actor Wallace
Shawn and the theatre director André
Gregory. Almost the entire movie takes place at a table
in a restaurant, as the two friends catch up on the last few years
since they’ve seen one another. Based on their
actual reunion, they played themselves in a scripted, tightly
directed movie in the conventional sense
of the word.
Malle was also one of the world’s greatest documentary
film makers, and that skill and sensibility suffuses My
Dinner With André.
Hoover and I was something else – entirely
new for me and very liberating. Having been under FBI surveillance
decades for his Left-leaning politics and uncompromising documentary
films, Emile de Antonio tells the story of
his quest to wrest his file from the clutches of the FBI by
employing the then-new
Freedom of Information Act. In the process he provides an illuminating
account of the relationship between J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde
Tolson, and of the blatant illegality that was/is
endemic in much of the bureau, all the while making it abundantly
that there is actually no freedom and NO information!
the way “De” does this is deceptively
gentle and really daring. He just calmly talks to the camera –
and then he shows a conversation between him and his wife as she
cuts his hair – THEN he puts in a conversation he filmed
between himself and John Cage as Cage
makes bread (as I recall…) and talks about random operations
in the making of his music and art.
Antonio’s film seems to embody John
Cage’s approach – deliberately
random - but while it is apparently languid and rambling, it
is actually a body-blow precisely and consciously aimed at the
entire American culture of movie-making and media manipulation.
We can say
of Mr. Hoover and I, as Woody Guthrie said of his guitar, “This machine kills fascists” – and
we could add – “with truth, humor and love.”
No car chases. No lightning-fast edits. No guns. No blood.
(ummm......unlike U & Me & Tennessee...)
I watched it when it was broadcast on Channel 4 here in the
U.K. and I was charmed, intrigued, awakened.
many of the really important things that happen to us in
in just this way – two people sitting at a table,
realized I’d have to make my movie
this way - not only because of the constraints of time and
budget, but because this
approach is part and parcel of what U & Me & Tennessee is
really about – humanity, friendship across generations,
love – talking and listening.
I realized I’d have to take part myself, just like “De”
and Wallace Shawn and André Gregory
did – because I was part of this story – Konrad
had not revealed the full extent of his involvement with Tennessee
to anyone before – hadn’t himself re-examined what
occurred between them for more than fifty years. But he was willing
to do so if I was willing to ask the questions and really listen
to the story.
both also been kind of culturally constrained, guarded, living
as foreigners in the West of Scotland for many years,
thousands of miles from the nation that made us, decades from
the times of our youth. Because of all this we shared an instinctive
I wasn’t at all sure what he’d say once the cameras
started rolling, because I didn’t know the story before
he told it to me.
you see in U & Me & Tennessee is
Hopkins re-lived on those two days
as we talked. Hilarious, full-hearted, sobering and – ultimately
- encouraging and inspiring.