Sunday, October 13, 2013

Salinger (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Salinger", a polarizing documentary by Shane Salerno, is an intriguing primer on the enigma of the notoriously reclusive writer. While some might find this biography a bit cursory and rudimentary, (and it is) it still makes a stirring postmodern collage of information and imagery, taking Salinger as haunted World War II soldier in counter-intelligence to an almost eerie figure of deception and sleight of hand in keeping with the existential antiheroes of Patricia Highsmith.

The young Salinger lived with his parents, yearning to write well enough to make it to The New Yorker. He was upper class---a cashmere creature of the country club and polo set. As a young sensitive actor, he became smitten with the young sylph Oona O'Neil with eyes as dark as rich periods and skin that could have been nightshade butter. Oona was enamored with the writer and critic but he joined the front and she stopped answering his letters. Oona was married to Charlie Chaplin. Salinger found out in the manner of an anonymous stranger, through the paper.

He was inconsolable.

After a mental breakdown, Salinger joined the front again as a kind of Nazi interrogator. Salinger lived in Germany and married Sylvia Welter, a subversive move at the time, as Sylvia was German born.

Then oddly, the marriage is terminated after a mere eight months and according to the documentary, at least, the causes are obscure.

Some hint that Sylvia had Third Reich ties.

All the while Salinger continues to write, seeming to chase his ideal Oona in a state of Wonderland. Professionally, he is finally accepted by The New Yorker, the magazine he champions, but he is haunted by the dark eyed ghosts of romances past.

Through the course of this film, there are compelling shots of the wraith known as Salinger shown in various orbits: at home, at war, and most interestingly as a gray man, frosted with tension. Sometimes he is like Kafka, his eyes blighted with anxiety. At others, he appears very much like Dean Martin, the life of the party swinging grandiose tales into the carbonated night, a friend to all.

The most hypnotic segments of "Salinger" the film, reveal Jean Miller and her recollections of Salinger as a kind of autocratic Humbert Humbert. As a young girl of 15, Miller was strikingly like the lost Oona, but their relations were 99% platonic. When the young nymph hinted at a relationship, the friendship was over. Miller had threatened Salinger's ritualistic writing work.

Such was verboten.

After the sudden success of Catcher in the Rye, Salinger marries Claire Douglas and has two children. He locks himself into a writing den, a "bunker" and disappears for weeks, obsessing and creating his increasingly spiritualist stories. He believes that America is insane with consumerism (which is arguably the film's best line) and dresses in a course canvas jumpsuit.

He constantly  writes letters to many pixie-figured women. Each time, transforming into a galvanic man, spontaneous and light, when they eventually meet.

A pattern emerges.

Yet it always manages to go sour. Few women can handle Salinger's unyielding rigor at home.

There is a evocative image in the documentary reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, of Salinger writing at his typewriter as an IMAX screen of his life flashes before him.

The last arresting hint of this documentary is of the author's promise to reveal more stories posthumously. The continued existential episodes of Holden Caulfield will most probably run on, replicated on machines like literary viruses to inhabit other minds in defiance of deranged fans or unrequited spirits.

The aura of Salinger left behind might well be cautious as well as celebratory.

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