U & Me & Tennessee is a new feature length documentary movie. Disturbing, shocking, hilarious and sobering, it tells the story of the romance between the late Tennessee Williams and Konrad Hopkins in the early 1950's.

Conjured out of the memories of Konrad Hopkins, who knew Tennessee Williams in the 1950's, and drawing on their unpublished correspondence, U & Me & Tennessee mixes original music, archive images and the full-hearted listening and humorous, incisive questioning of Paul Birchard to paint a vivid picture of what it was really like to be close to Williams when he was the Zeus of Broadway, battling - and embracing - the "bitch goddess success."

Paul 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 U & Me & Tennessee!

Paul Birchard writes:

When it 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 project.

One was Mr. Hoover and I, by Emile de Antonio, and the other was My Dinner With André, directed by Louis Malle.

My 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.

Louis Malle was also one of the world’s greatest documentary film makers, and that skill and sensibility suffuses My Dinner With André.

Mr. Hoover and I was something else – entirely new for me and very liberating. Having been under FBI surveillance for 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 clear that there is actually no freedom and NO information!

But 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.

De 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.

No sex. (ummm......unlike U & Me & Tennessee...)

Often no apparent story…

And yet…..

I watched it when it was broadcast on Channel 4 here in the U.K. and I was charmed, intrigued, awakened.

So many of the really important things that happen to us in life occur in just this way – two people sitting at a table, talking.

I 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.

And 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.

We’d 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 bond.

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.

What you see in U & Me & Tennessee is what Konrad Hopkins re-lived on those two days as we talked. Hilarious, full-hearted, sobering and – ultimately - encouraging and inspiring.

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