Portrait of the writer as an obsessive perfectionist.
Portrait of the writer as a traumatized war veteran.
Portrait of the writer as a fancier of very young females.
Portrait of the writer as a cultural icon.
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Filmmaker Shane Salerno’s documentary “Salinger” is all of these things. And when the elements are mixed and merged together, what emerges is a portrait of an enigma.
In the nine years Salerno spent researching and filming “Salinger,” he interviewed a dizzying array of writers, editors, critics, ex-lovers, former wartime comrades-in-arms and fans to try to pierce the shroud of closely guarded privacy that J.D. Salinger drew around himself for more than 50 years until his death at age 91 in 2010.
Rich in anecdote and visually arresting, thanks to a skillful interweaving of rare photos and film footage of the elusive Salinger (along with a few re-enactments) with its talking-head segments, “Salinger’s” central thesis is that writing was the all-consuming passion of the author of “The Catcher in the Rye” from a very early age. Everything and everyone else — lovers (most of them much, much younger than him), family members, friends — took a back seat and were often left by the wayside when he perceived them to be interfering with or altering his work.
He poured the essence of his personality and his deepest emotions, many shaped by his harrowing experiences as a front-line infantryman in World War II, into his writing. Salerno’s sources all agree that Holden Caulfield, “Catcher’s” profoundly disaffected teen antihero, was his alter-ego. The sudden fame and adulation that came with the publication of “Catcher” in 1951 so unnerved Salinger that he retreated to rural New Hampshire and tried to shut the world out. He kept writing though, the movie tells us, and claims long-withheld works will be published beginning in 2015.
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