Texas Art & Film's Dr. Donna Copeland's Film Reviews & Features
Salinger, a documentary by Shane Salerno, based on a book co-written by him and David Shields, is a challenge to cover in a documentary because of the author’s skittishness about his story being publicized (hence, a dearth of primary sources), but also because he was a complex man who gave out mixed messages and led a complex life with so many types of relationships.  I experienced a high degree of ambivalence in hearing about him, along with being mystified as to why everyday people who had never been introduced sought him out so relentlessly with no respect for his wishes for privacy.  This is not uncommon, of course, but he seems to have been plagued more than most famous people are.
            On the other hand, the manner in which he treated family members and close friends and associates makes his outrage about their stories and publications unjustified.  I am thinking of his children and the abrupt ways he would dismiss a wife, lover, or friend after what he perceived as an infraction or breach of trust. The film emphasizes that the effect of the war on him accounts for much of this; and although I can imagine that might be the case, it is difficult to make that call without more information about his early life.  His ability to pull for other people’s anger and rebellion is evidenced not only by the memoirs that have surfaced, but also by three young men shooting famous people after being moved by his novel, Catcher in the Rye.  Salinger did not apparently have much insight into this propensity of his, as implied by his saying that “Catcher in the Rye is [simply] about a kid who goes to New York and does things”, which minimizes the intense experience many people have when they read the book.
            The film makes the claim that Salinger is one of the more powerful figures of this century, but many would disagree, and the fact that the film constantly repeats the same photos and text over and over, weakens that claim.  He did retain much of the mystique that he so carefully cultivated to the end, when he died in 2010.  One does wonder what he would think of this film, which purports to be a tell-all production.
            Salinger attempts to explain the complexities of the man’s personality and the qualities that make him a prominent 20th Century writer, but falls rather short of its goal.  Nevertheless, I found it very interesting, in that much of it was new to me.  Others who have followed and read Salinger more diligently will likely not have the same experience. 
Grade:  C


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