The author is revealed in this film and biography in a harsh, but true light.
Shane Salerno’s oral biography and accompanying feature film about the work, life and trials of J. D. Salinger are both due to be released this week (the biography on Tuesday, while the film will hit theatres on Friday) after nearly a decade of exhaustive research. With so much time and money (Salerno reportedly spent over $2 million hunting down pieces of the Salinger puzzle,) calling the work a labor of love would be an understatement. It is, without a doubt, a passion project, but throughout the course of the investigation, the facts that the author uncovered turned the project into a full-blown obsession.
Throughout the course of his investigation, Salerno discovered a whole host of exciting details about the author’s life, from the admirable - his survival at a concentration camp and subsequent work with the de-Nazification program – to the downright scandalous – like his long-term relationship with a teenager which inspired the short story "For Esmé — With Love and Squalor." In the end, however, the author decided that the passion project had begun taking up too much of his life. So he called it quits. "I turned 40 and I was done," he recalls for the LA Times. "The film was sitting in my house as a finished master and I thought: 'This is ridiculous, enough.' On Dec. 3, I called my lawyer and I said, 'I want to do this now.'"
Salinger is an incredibly beautifully made doc about a man with clear and permanent damage from WWII. Deep. Sad. A must see.— Sasha Stone (@AwardsDaily) September 2, 2013
So far, the biopic has attracted lots of praise.
And here it is, all neatly wrapped up – as neatly as a life with so many connections and loose ends could be – in a movie, a book and, according to Salerno, five previously unpublished works by Salinger, to be released between 2015 and 2020. The niche appeal is undeniable. Fans of the author’s work – and Salinger does tend to inspire a nearly fanatical level of devotion – will be thrilled with so much new information and possibly even new work from the author. It remains to be seen however, whether the film will manage to crossover into the mainstream and achieve a wider appeal. Salinger’s biography is a thrill ride of its own, but let’s not forget that the current generation of filmgoers are being widely criticised for generally having the attention spans of not particularly attentive goldfish.
As for Salerno, the author feels he has done his bit – making an exhaustive and not always flattering account of Salinger’s life. The book and film do not gloss over some of the author’s darker moments. Not everyone is impressed with Salerno’s level of detail, however.
"Salinger's interest in seeking out young girls is certainly an element in the film. But the disturbing consequences of this behavior, to the girls, is barely addressed, and the suggestion has been made that there was some kind of privilege or honor involved in having been selected as a muse," author Joyce Maynard, who shared an elicit relationship with 53-year-old Salinger when she was 18, said in an interview. "It is my view that J.D. Salinger damaged the lives of many young girls, on a far greater scale than is represented in Salerno's film."
As for the filmmaker himself, he does have his reasons for painting the picture the way he has.
"We felt after Oona, Joyce, Jean and Claire, the point had been made," said Salerno, referring to some of Salinger’s teenage lovers, mentioned in the film. "When we showed people early cuts of the film, they were like, 'We get it."
So there you have it – all the parts you’d expect in a hit movie – romance, scandal, tragedy – except it’s all true. Whether this will be enough to impress moviegoers, remains to be seen.