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TIFF ’13 review: Salinger
The legend himself, J.D. Salinger. Photo courtesy of TIFF. There’s information that the new
Salinger documentary – about the famously reclusive author – can’t reveal to us, and that’s because it’s something that what we already knew: the writer who gave us Holden Caulfield was the closest incarnation to a literary rock star we’ve ever seen. (For proof of this, there’s
Catcher in the Rye.) But what the documentary by American filmmaker Shane Salerno, who co-authored the companion
Salinger biography published earlier this week, can tell us about the handsome Jerome David Salinger are his bouts with women, fans and his rise to fame (so basically, the holy trinity of battle wounds for any sanctified rock star).
The film rotates between a roster of talking heads – friends, editors, biographers, Tom Wolfe – who share personal anecdotes of their often brief encounters with "Jerry". Spliced with never-before-seen personal photos and letters, as well as footage of Salinger during the second world war, the documentary slowly chips away at famously projected idea that the author who hated "phonies" and stowed himself away in Cornish, New Hampshire at the peak of his literary success, wanted no part of his fame. (A friend and editor of his shares that the young and yet-to-be published upstart mused that there have been "no great writers from Melville until me." Would a true recluse – aviator Howard Hughes is often cited in the film as the authentic example – have unexpectedly called up a
New York Times reporter just to chat? The answer, the film begs to tell, is most definitely not.
The 10 Films You Absolutely Must See at TIFF ’13 The Salinger that does emerge from the 129-minute doc is charming, self-aware and steadfastly, if to a fault, devoted to perfecting his craft. Not even the women (and there were plenty) could get between that bond; as a hotshot
New Yorker-published fiction writer, Salinger would charm legions of nubile women at bars by pretending to be a goalie from a soccer team in Montreal. Perhaps he learned all too well, from the war and heartbreak (his first love, Oona O’Neill, left him to marry Charlie Chaplin while Salinger was overseas) that earthly indulgences are fleeting. That’s something that the author himself, as well as the obsessive fans who pilgrimaged to New Hampshire over the decades looking for answers, could never quite get over. The doc does promise the release of unpublished Salinger manuscripts between 2015 and 2020, and that a film version of
Catcher in the Rye will never, ever surface. The author had said that the only person who could have ever played his beloved Holden was himself. Salinger died in his home at the age of 91 in 2010. Salinger
opens in U.S. theatres September 6.
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