Film Reviews

SALINGER

By • Sep 26th, 2013 •

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He hated being a celebrity.

We have a lust and belief that we are all special and deserve becoming a celebrity. Honey Boo Boo is a brand. Make a sex tape and become Kim Kardashian, an icon and billionaire with no talent. Do not be surprised if in a mere decade Kim runs for the Senate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently wrote a New York Times opinion piece (regarding President Obama’s call for intervention in Syria) commenting on Obama’s statement about Americans being “exceptional”. Putin wrote: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

There have been a scant few who, most shockingly, have shunned fame, money, and an exalted place in society. There may be many, but I am familiar with three notables: J.D. Salinger, Carlos Castaneda after a 1973 Time exposé, and famously impoverished Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman.*See Below

Shamefully, especially after seeing this film, I must admit to having never read the life-changing “The Catcher in the Rye” but did read “Franny and Zooey” and “Nine Stories”. I tried but never got past the first pages of the “Catcher” novel that was so influential to a generation. I’ll have to read it to see if it holds up in 2013.

“Catcher”, according to Salinger’s legal documents, will never be made into a movie. Don’t say “never”. Wills are always broken when deemed “in the public’s interest”. The enormously wealthy Barnes Foundation was moved to the Philadelphia Museum of Art even though its founder, and owner of all the paintings, clearly stated it was not to be moved.**See Below.

J. D. Salinger is as famous a recluse as Howard Hughes. Yet, as we find out, he was out and about. He was a ravenous reader and kept up with everything that was going on. He wrote gushy fan letters to teenage girls. Unlike the dandified authors – I’m talking to you Tom Wolfe – who are in the documentary, J.D. Salinger never sought, chased, or agreed to be a literary lion, a man-about-town man of letters. Frankly, as “Catcher” continues to sell, all J.D. had to do and did was cash royalty checks. But he did continue to write every day. That’s 40 years of all-day writing.

Where is it and when will we see it?

But first the man. Director Shane Salerno has done the best he can re-constructing Salinger’s life. Sometimes, the reenactments are cheesy. It’s a huge task to fill in every important fact in a famous man’s life. Luckily, like Hughes, Salinger had a few early years where he was photographed and filmed. There’s material, photos and history out there. But friends? Only former lover Joyce Maynard, who has made an industry over her relationship with Salinger, is interviewed. The rest of the interviewees have second-hand tales or talk about what Salinger’s “Catcher” meant to them.

Maynard’s glee over being interviewed is evident but where was the ugly truth? I wanted to know: What was Salinger like as a lover? Why did he prefer younger women? Was he sexually inadequate and older women would notice? Did he inspire Maynard and encourage her career? Did she know he was writing fan letters to other young women? Did she know there was another young women waiting outside their door for her to leave?

Salinger comes across as a heartless misanthrope. Was “Catcher” a fluke he could not repeat?

Could a writer today get published without the contractual obligation for book tours, interviews and The Daily Show appearance?

As Salinger withdrew from the literary world, his fame as a recluse only made matters worse. People took pilgrimages to his home and waited for him. The director has found a few of them willing to tell their decades old stories. Anyone who took a photo of Salinger turns up.

I haven’t read any of the biographies of Salinger but it is clear no one has cracked the enigma of the man. Now, the question of Hughes’ strangeness has been diagnosed. Take your pick: he had OCD, schizophrenia or untreated syphilis.

Salinger has defeated his future critics. When his work in slowly released in years to come – according to the foundation he set up he will not be compelled to read reviews, flog book sales, or answer any questions. He wins.

Salinger died in 2010. Did he have a computer? An email address?

*In 2010, Perelman was awarded the prestigious $1 million Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize for his groundbreaking work having solved a problem of three-dimensional geometry that had resisted scores of brilliant mathematicians since 1904. The Poincaré conjecture had been called the Mount Everest of Mathematics. The institute announced that Perelman formally turned down the award and the money. He didn’t deserve it, he told a Russian news service, because he was following a mathematical path set by another. The president of the Clay Institute, James Carlson, said that Perelman was a mathematician of “extraordinary power and creativity” and that it was he alone who solved the intractable Poincaré’s conjecture. Perelman refuses to be interviewed or lionized. Perelman has said: “I know how to control the Universe. Why would I run after a million, tell me?”

** When wealthy art collector Albert Barnes was killed in a car crash in 1951, he left behind an enormously rich art collection, to be tended in perpetuity by a foundation he had set up in 1922. Among the many stipulations in the organization’s original bylaws was a strict prohibition on moving any of the art he had acquired from where it was placed in the private gallery in Merion, Pa, outside of Philadelphia.

He also forbade the exhibition of any art that wasn’t his, put a perpetual kibosh on “any society functions commonly designated receptions, tea parties, dinners, banquets, dances, musicales or similar affairs,” and refused to allow copies to be made of the works he had rapaciously collected from the greatest artists of his day. The story of the Barnes Foundation has been told in books, on the news, and in a fascinating 2009 documentary, THE ART OF THE STEAL.

My weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday. The Devil’s Hammer on FTB. If you would like to be included on my private distribution list for a weekly preview, just email me at
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Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria directly at
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