For an author who spent most of his adult life hiding, much of the mysterious writer J.D. Salinger is revealed in the eponymous new documentary Salinger.
Director Shane Salerno informs us that although the author never sought the fame that came his way, he did chase a purification in his writing until his death in 2010 at 91.
Salerno has done his research, amassing what must be virtually every recorded live-action snippet of Jerome David Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye. What transpires might not be a complete picture of the author, but the more Salerno reveals, the more it becomes apparent that a full portrait would be impossible.
In addition to including a fair amount of still photographs as well as brief moving images, Salerno fleshes out his too-long documentary with numerous interviews and several needless, and clumsy, re-enactments. The interviews come from both the few people still around who knew Salinger, along with some dubious contributions from some who gush about how much Catcher in the Rye meant to them, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton.
But those who actually moved in Salinger’s tiny circle offer the best perspectives on the man who could be both charming and a monster. In an archived interview, Katie Couric asks Salinger’s adult daughter Margaret what kind of relationship they have. “None,” the daughter replies.
Salerno also records the true confessions of unrepentant fawners (that is, stalkers) who traveled to the author’s New England homes looking for an audience. Surprisingly, a few made it through the local community’s gantlet and even shared a word with him.
Although probably well known to Salinger scholars, some surprising information comes to wider light: Salinger married a German woman, possibly a Nazi sympathizer, right after having served in World War II. But when he brought her back to the States, they split up within a month.
But maybe the most surprising quirk found in this man who wrote a penetrating novel that spoke to the alienation of a generation, and sold more than 60 million copies to boot, is that he loved to watch and dance to The Lawrence Welk Show.
Before ending his film, Salerno announces that more literary output from Salinger will appear from 2015 to 2020.
Rated PG-13, 129 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Angelika Plano.