Salinger [2013)

I read every book J.D. Salinger ever wrote.

This was, of course, due to The Catcher in the Rye.

If my memory serves me, it was the first book I ever enjoyed reading.

The first book that ever made me laugh.

[what a concept!]

And so I made it through the other three books published during the author’s lifetime.

None of them made the same impression upon me as had Catcher, yet I knew this was a special, special writer.

One story did, however, stick with me for unrelated reasons.

That story was “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”.

And the connection was Richard Manuel (of The Band)…who died in a similar way (and in Florida, near enough in my mind…city notwithstanding) to the protagonist of that haunting little tale.

But I am not obsessed with J.D. Salinger.

Indeed, I had not given thought to him in quite some time.

His writing affected me deeply, but it was not the kind of stuff that I wished to revisit.

Once was enough.

But still…

Perhaps his greatest work…was his strange, mysterious life.

THAT is what fascinated me!

Long after the books ended.

In my literary pantheon, there is one very small category which holds but two authors:  Salinger and Pynchon.

The recluses.

And so, in the final estimation, Salinger was the consummate artist.

A genius of public relations as much as a weaver of phrases.

Well, dear friends…if you relate to any of the above, then you absolutely must see the documentary Salinger.

What is particularly fascinating is that our author was in counterintelligence.

Yes, by this I mean to infer that Salinger’s self-imposed exile was very much a calculated move from the mind of a trained spook (for lack of a better word).

But there’s more to the story…

Salinger likewise was a soldier.

World War II.

Voluntary.

From D-Day through V-E Day.

299 days (as director Shane Salerno makes wonderfully clear).

But if this has not piqued your curiosity about this mammoth of 20th-century literature, consider the pithy, icy story of how Salinger was jilted, while at war (!), to the benefit of an Englishman [wait for it] living in America…

Yes, his girlfriend married Charlie Chaplin.

While J.D. was seeing men die in France and Germany to push back and defeat the Nazis.

And the cherry on top of that bitter sundae?

His erstwhile girlfriend was the daughter of America’s only Nobel-prize-winning dramatist:  Eugene O’Neill.

This is the kind of stuff any documentarian would drool over.

But likewise, portraying the delicate enigma of Salinger is a task which could have resulted in crumbling failure with any faux pas (in its literal sense).

Shane Salerno (any relation to Nadja…Sonnenberg?) crafted a thoroughly engrossing document of Salinger’s richly-fabriced life.

But the coup comes at the end (and it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal this).

Salinger appears to be the primary source (if Wikipedia is to be even marginally trusted) concerning the forthcoming publication of Salinger’s fruits of reclusion.

We have a timetable:  2015-2020.

40% has come and gone.

You know, I never thought I’d live to see the day when a “new” Salinger book hit the shelves.

And I won’t believe it till I see it.

But one thing is for sure:  I’m buying.

Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Salinger.

He passed away in 2010.

What a special gift he had!

What joy he shared with the world!!

It was the real thing.

The masses, after all, CAN (in the final estimation) tell the difference between shit and Shinola.

And to all the critics who ever panned J.D. out of jealousy, a big “Fuck you” is in order.

One more thing…

This review is dedicated to all those who travelled up to Cornish, New Hampshire hoping to catch a glimpse of the man…

All those who left a note…

All those whose pleas fell on deaf ears…

I know your dedication.

My hero is Jean-Luc Godard.

I know.

I know letters.

I know the long-distance call.

My Cornish, New Hampshire just happens to be Rolle, Switzerland.

But I know.

And I want to make this very clear.

You are not dupes.

You had the open hearts to dream.

And you let an author into your lives.

Perhaps J.D. Salinger was incapable of expressing his gratitude for all of you.

Perhaps out of some kind of self-hate.

But I’m bold enough to speak for the man.

He loves you.

Always did.

Always will.

Else, he never would have given you Holden in the first place.

-PD

Mr. Arkadin [1955)

I am a bad film critic.

A good, bad film critic.

Because this is one of those films which requires a certain attention to detail.

Get the damn title right.

So what is it?

I have just watched the British version…we’ll call it (adhering to common practice) Confidential Report.

I had seen this once before.

To me it was always Mr. Arkadin.  I didn’t realize the level of controversy surrounding this film’s numerous versions.

But let me point something out.  All of the versions are within a few minutes of each other.  Sure, some are in Spanish.  That makes a difference.  But at a certain point it is splitting hairs.  Either you’ve seen this thing or you haven’t.

I can understand the legalistic approach to film preservation when it comes to this picture.

If the whole thing isn’t presented as a flashback, I can see how the composition might be negatively affected.

But who cares?  Bogdanovich?  Sure…I care too.

And so let’s get around to why one should even care in the first place.

This is a magnificent movie!

I didn’t really think so the first time I saw it.

It’s possible to see this film and be caught in a The Big Sleep haze.

So maybe it does depend on the version.

Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be confusing.

Yet, there’s something nice (pleasant) about being confused.

If this was a universal maxim, I would walk around with a smile on my face perpetually.

But the confusion here is a rare sort.

When I first saw Mr. Arkadin I mainly “retained” (absorbed?) only its mood.

Something was happening.  Orson Welles was a shadowy character.

There wasn’t a sense of continuity.

But here’s another possibility.

This film needs (deserves) to be seen more than once.

The action moves fast.

Weird things are afoot.

The whole film is a sort of riddle.

And the symbolism is as stinky-strong as Roquefort.

Wikipedia might lead you to Basil Zaharoff, but my mind was wandering more towards George Soros and/or Rupert Murdoch.

Even Jeff Bezos…these guys who feel compelled to protect their corporate empires by buying the Wall Street Journal (or Washington Post).

We make fun of Kissinger because he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

We make fun of Obama for the same reason.

Neither deserved it.  [the prize]

It is as repugnant as Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But really, we are dumb.

We Lumpenproletariat.

Lumpy Gravy.

We lump together Kissinger with Brzezinski.  And then we throw Soros in for good measure.

And to top it all off, we place Murdoch like a cherry atop the mystère.

There is no mystery.

Bouvard and Pécuchet are aghast.

Maybe he was born in Muğla.

Perhaps he died in Monte Carlo.

Methods.  Experiments.

This is the dossier on Mr. Arkadin.

You are paying to have yourself spied on.

Whether you like it or not.

Because, with all you have been through, you can’t even remember your real identity.

Oh yes…the tired trope of super-soldier pap and shows like Blindspot.

We almost buy it.

It goes a long way.

But it falls short.

Too few comma splices.

Yes, too few.

I will, be, here with Pynchon.  Is not a comma splice.

This is approaching the time in which firemen SET fires.  Bradbury.  Truffaut.

And among the contraband is Tropic of Cancer.

Yes, my heart rends a bit.  As I reach out.

Julie Christie…the rumors are true.

A shamus hired by a murderer.

Belgrade.  Zürich.

Orson Welles is painting a portrait of Europe.

Corruption.

A song for Europe.

Mother of pearl.

They say Rothschild came in.

Always came in.  But with a nice glass of Lafite.

ONI was sniffing around.  They were the first.  Good old chaps!

War profiteering runs all through the story of Basil Zaharoff.

And Orson Welles borrows this story artfully.

As when Patricia Medina is drunk on the yacht.

All through the film.  Those expressionist camera angles.  Vertov.  Ruttman.

But with the wine…more sinister.  As Arkadin is lucid.  Listening.  Gathering intelligence.

DYB.

We need a new generation of jet fighters.  Though the last generation never saw action in a real war.  Hasn’t been a real war since WWII.  Profiteers are restricted in their movements.

The Spanish Empire finally collapsed because of this corruption.  Will it happen in the exact same manner to the United States?

The parallels are more similar than Rome.

It is too much.  The shoddiness of these machines.  I must stop here.

 

-PD

 

 

Winter of Frozen Dreams [2009)

What a beautiful title…like Bashō, Li Po, or even François Villon.  In this age of over-medication, we hear of new disorders every day (accompanied by ridiculous commercials we have to endure with relatives at Christmastime).  Of special note in these cold days is seasonal affective disorder.  It’s legend as something independent of general depression lives on as most people do not have the DSM-IV or DSM-5 by their bedside.

And so, “with seasonal pattern” there are many of us who struggle especially in the wintery days of the year…especially if we feel our dreams have been suspended.  Ah, suspended animation…it can be beautiful…like insects caught in amber (that Greek touchstone which lends our word “electricity” an etymology).  Static electricity and ēlektron (the classical name for amber)…  Such irony that flies and gnats would meet their demise drowned in the same substance…and countless days later we wonder at the beauty of their death.  It is one of the few times death can be generally agreed on as beautiful.  In the spider frozen in amber, we marvel at the beauty of the creature.  Their life is preserved.  While they have ceased to exist as a living creature, their form lives on through the sepia light which attests to them having existed.  Grammar becomes difficult in such a state of was/is/will be.

But alas, as they say, this film is not really a poetic tour de force.  It is, however, a time capsule which presents a haunting portrait of the northern U.S. in the late-’70s.  One wonders whether the props department of Boogie Nights was lifted whole-cloth (!) as the action unfolds during this strange movie.  Indeed, it is more strange than haunting.  It is not frightening or repulsive like a Silence of the Lambs, but rather disjunct like a lesser cousin of Mulholland Dr.

I do not want to disparage this film because it is actually quite good, but I must admit that my sole reason for watching was to see Thora Birch act.  Thora was the first actress I ever fell in love with.  We all have our celebrity crushes.  She was/is mine.  Her trio of films American Beauty, Ghost World, and Homeless to Harvard (a Lifetime “joint”) was really an acting triumph which I can only compare to Bob Dylan’s trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.  I know it sounds ridiculous to say so, but Birch directed those three films as much as did their auteurs/metteurs en scène.  Call it la politique…in reverse…unlike King Midas…

This film presents a problem in its representation on Wikipedia.  After viewing a film, I like to recall what I’ve just seen.  Wikipedia is good for that, but not in this case.  It’s as if this film was a Falconetti one-reeler from 1916 and not an American feature from 2009.  In this dearth of information, one begins to suspect that Thora’s claims of having been forgotten and overlooked after Ghost World might just be right on the money.  That’s where film critics step in.  Though it be five years late and $991,679 short, I can (with my little voice) once again assert that Thora is an acting genius.

Poor Eric Mandelbaum…his name isn’t even a hypertext link on Wiki, but he did a fine job here painting a snow-drift picture of the not-so-old, weird America.  Dan Moran at least has a dead link (empty page).  The trouble with Harry, that!

All jokes aside, Brandon Sexton III is very convincing as the bearded, lonely Jerry.  His stoic visage becomes as much a motif as Birch’s radiant beauty over the film’s course.  Poor Jerry gets duped into some accessory to murder business…we think.  None of it is very clear.  Based on the true story of Barbara Hoffman, this tale plays with time and the facts like Lynch directing Pynchon.  I can’t help but wonder if PTA’s Inherent Vice might converge with this film in some way…no doubt at a locale with an angry cropduster.

Keith Carradine is good here (resembling Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams).  Also good is Colleen Camp in the small role as Jerry’s mother.  There are scenes of unspeakable sadness and ennui at the dinner table and near the end as she takes the phone call.  We sense a connection to Ellen Burstyn’s performance in Requiem for a Dream (with the mise-en-scène of a Harmony Korine).

One thing is certain: my little piece of shit website shall always sing the praises of one Miss Thora Birch.

-PD