“Salinger” Rejiggered: Less Music and Re-enactments, More Dirt on Girlfriends

September 29, 2013 § 2 Comments

Leave Me Alone!/Photo by Lotte Jacobi via Wikipedia

So Much For RIP/Photo by Lotte Jacobi via Wikipedia

From the Hollywood Reporter comes this fascinating article on the reworking of Shane Salerno’s “Salinger.” Someone’s been reading the godawful reviews!


Confidential to Shane and Harvey: the time to make changes is after the festivals, not during the commercial run. This only makes you look desperate.

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“Salinger”: Not the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life

September 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

Reading and hearing the reviews of Shane Salerno’s misbegotten documentary “Salinger” has been more of a revelation than anything contained in the film. It’s not often you hear critics retching in print, but they do over “Salinger,” and it’s amazing to see. Here’s a roundup of reactions:

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: “…less a work of cinema than a byproduct of its own publicity campaign.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “…make sure you bring a barf bag when you watch this doc’s tacky re-enactments, hear its cheeseball score and endure literary posturings so florid they’d embarrass Baz Luhrmann of The Great Gatsby.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “[Th mystery of J.D. Salinger] is certainly hardy enough to withstand the voyeuristic onslaught of this self-aggrandizing, lurid documentary, which leaves the viewer feeling that we’ve been given a tour of Salinger’s septic tank in hip waders….”

Julia Turner, Slate Culture Gabfest: “The single worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Turner’s remark was particularly striking, not because I think she’s exaggerating but because she obviously hasn’t been to enough film festivals. Festivals specialize in assaultive movies, and it’s not unheard of for viewers to faint or vomit during screenings. More commonly they walk out. Fortunately, the Palais des Festivals, the main theater of the Cannes Film Festival, offers an effective revenge on badly received films and their directors. Whenever someone leaves early, the unusually tight springs on the seat make a loud pop. A mass exodus sounds like gunfire.

I’ve walked out of a lot of bad films at festivals, but the Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen in My Life is one I saw in a studio screening room in the late 90s. To protect the hapless director, I won’t mention its name but the film was shot on an island and involved a crime of some kind. (I’m foggy on the plot not because it was a long time ago, but because I didn’t understand it at the time.) As I recall, there was a lot of driving and an exploding car on a bridge. After the explosion the film abruptly stopped–not because it was over, but because the producers had run out of money and couldn’t afford an ending. I wanted to laugh but the director was sitting an arm’s length away, still hoping that the necessary funds would be forthcoming. They weren’t, and the film was never released. I don’t know what happened to the director, who had mortgaged his house to finance the project, but last I heard some of the footage was sold for stock.

Compared with this, “Salinger” is not half bad, though it certainly doesn’t deserve its high-octane release. It occurs to me that if the documentary makes money, Salerno might be encouraged to make another feverish literary tell-all, in which case Thomas Pynchon should lawyer up immediately.

Thomas Pynchon

Watch out, Thomas Pynchon

“Salinger”: How Not to Make a Biographical Documentary

September 12, 2013 § 6 Comments

J. D. Salinger in 1950/Photo by Lotte Jacobi via Wikipedia

J. D. Salinger in 1950/Photo by Lotte Jacobi via Wikipedia

“Salinger,” the new documentary by Shane Salerno, has a fascinating subject, an intriguing trailer and enviable distribution via the Weinstein Company. What it doesn’t have, unfortunately, is good filmmaking. Salerno, a feature screenwriter making his documentary debut, apparently suffers from the conceit that documentaries aren’t as interesting as feature films, and that no one given a choice in the matter would watch the former.

You would think that with the notoriously reclusive author of “The Catcher In The Rye” as his subject, Salerno would have more faith in documentary technique, but you would be wrong. In a desperate attempt to hold the audience’s interest, he gooses his too-long film (129 minutes) with overly dramatic music and a truckload of re-enactments, most of which are so literal that they insult the intelligence of everyone who has gone beyond pre-school. (Not sure what, exactly, a writer does? Don’t worry, Salerno will show you, via a Salingeresque actor who types reams of paper over the course of the film.)

As far as re-enactments go, the typing just the beginning. When Salinger’s former teenage crush (she was 14; he was 32) Jean Miller talks about their chaste walks on the beach in Daytona, you’ll see actors playing Jerry and Jean walking on the beach. After Salinger exiles himself to Cornish, N.H., Salerno not only shows the bunker where he holes up to write but stand-ins for his wife Claire and daughter Peggy who, forbidden to enter, must gaze forlornly at it. Inside, the Salinger impersonator types up a storm, throwing piles of paper around to show us his creative anguish. Nothing is left undramatized, let alone unsaid.

In Salerno’s defense, he had very few photos of Salinger to work with, and even less moving footage. The photo above, which appeared on “The Catcher In The Rye” and is certainly the best-known image of the author, is used at least fifty times. The few other photos he has–of Salinger with his Army buddies and leaving the Cornish, N.H., post office–are repeated many times as well. Given the lack of Salinger photos, re-enactments are a legitimate way of filling in visual gaps. But the sheer number of them, and their obviousness, is an annoyance. Rather than letting his interviewees simply talk, Salerno is forever cutting away–to the farmhouse, the bunker, the beach. It’s especially odd given the care with which he stages the interviews, most of which are set in rooms with sweeping and varied views–of New York City, the Santa Monica Mountains, the waters off the Malibu Pier.

But there is a reward for the viewer: after nearly two hours, you finally get the details about Salinger’s secret manuscripts, including a memoir and two novels, as well as a timetable for their publication. That brief segment is thrilling, in part because Salerno couldn’t do it as a re-enactment. But the overall effect of “Salinger” is a curious one: you’re left with considerable sympathy for a strange, unlikable dead writer who–for all his faults–deserves a better documentary.

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