Friday, September 20, 2013

"Salinger": the most complete biography of the reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye" ever

Salinger”, directed by Shane Salerno and proudly distributed by The Weinstein Company, is a very thorough and compelling biography, running a full two hours, of Jerome David “J.D.” Salinger (1919-2010), one of the most controversial authors in modern American literature. 
It’s common knowledge that Salinger became reclusive after the publication in 1951 of “The Catcher in the Rye”, and reporters have camped out and followed him near his home near Cornish, NH, but he has had a lot more contact with the public over the years than is generally believed.
Salinger started writing little stories while in a military academy, and actually wrote while in combat during the D-Day invasion and subsequent battle to liberate France during WWII, of which the film shows considerable footage.  It’s well known that he was drafted in 1942, but I didn’t know he had first been rejected in 1941 and kept asking to take the draft physical again.  The movie doesn’t explain why he was rejected.  I thought I was almost the only person in history who had done that, being classified 4-F for “psychiatric history” at my first physical in 1964, asking for the physical again and becoming 1-Y in 1966 and 1-A in 1967, and finally “serving without serving” from 1968-1970. Salinger would serve in the counterintelligence corps in WWII while exposed to brutal combat, and would discover victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Salinger had also been published before the age of 21, but had tried to get published in the prestigious New Yorker, only to have a story (a precursor to “Rye” with Holden) pulled in 1942 because it seemed inappropriate with the outbreak of WWII.  “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” would be published in 1946.  Salinger's writing while in combat and holding onto manuscripts in his pack would be more challenging than my handwriting my novel "The Proles" while stationed at Fort Eustis, VA in 1969.

Salinger pulled at least one book from stores (after "Catcher"( in the 1950's when published without his authorization.  I wasn't aware authors could do this.
The film also traces his three marriages, especially his second wife’s own literary career and the confrontation it created.  He was capable of having platonic relationships with younger women.
The movie has a lot of stills of Salinger in his twenties and thirties, with the long face, swarthy complexion and hairy arms.  There’s an observation by Holder Caulfield early in “Catcher” about one of the prep school male teachers, “Old guys’ legs are so white and unhairy.”

The film also covers the three shootings by deranged men supposedly identifying with Holden, including the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.

At the end, the movie lists the publication schedule of many of Salinger’s remaining novellas and stories, to come out between 2015 and 2020.

The movie makes the point that Salinger wrote for himself, as he got older.   As a young man, he cared about getting published, but resisted attention once he was famous.  He was solving problems in his writing.  Of course, most of his career came about long before the Internet, when you had to sell your work to a third party publisher to get your worldview known by the public.

Salinger accumulated a reel film library in his home, and one of his favorites was Frank Capra's 1937 of James Hilton's "Lost Horizon", about a Shangri La where you remain young forever.  I've seen it once on TCM, as I recall. 

The official site is here

I saw the film at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA before a small crowd at the early Friday evening show.  
Can there ever be a film of "Catcher"? 

Picture: Tilton, NH (mine, 2011). 

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