The great writer remains as much a mystery as ever.
Director: Shane Salerno (Sundown: The Future of Children ad Drugs)
Cast: Talking Heads Philip Seymour Hoffman, et al.
Runtime: 120 min.
by John DeSando
“. . . I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.” Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
No writer in the 20th century cultivated such an obsessive privacy as J. D. Salinger. As famed as his Catcher in the Rye was, he was equally jealous of his privacy. Shane Salerno’s documentary “Salinger” does a modest job highlighting his almost hermit life in New England. However, the above quote reveals as much as any documentary could hope to do the innocence and privacy of Salinger’s iconic character and maybe himself.
Otherwise, this doc is occasionally and unintentionally hilarious when it uses the same still photos of Salinger over and over for want of an extant variety. A few of the talking heads are actors who may have no real cred to talk about the author (Martin Sheen, Phillip Seymour Hoffman); at other times the real deals like author and friend A.E. Hotchner and noted writer Gore Vidal comment with insight.
The women such as Joyce Maynard, who lived with him, and his daughter Margaret provide the best insight into his emotional and physical isolation. Beyond these first-hand recollections, it’s hard for director Shane Salerno to shake anything new from the Salinger tree of life. The Internet holds the same information.
Then there’s the heavy-handed music, most amusingly prominent in the final sequence that reveals what the Internet already has disclosed: Salinger, who died in 2010 at 91, authorized several original works to be released between 2015 and 2020. This information is about the only new material in the documentary.
In the end, Salinger himself is in charge. Most of the commentary is broad and speculative, lacking the inside information the world clamors for. He is as rebellious and disdainful of phoniness as Holden Caulfield. Actually, he probably is Caulfield--I fit right in with the other clueless commentators.
J.D. Salinger remains an enigma and a powerful one at that: "If three people used something I wrote in this fashion, I'd be very troubled by it." Playwright John Guare on crimes by Catcher in the Rye devotees.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com