After all the hype about its supposedly mind-blowing revelations about the late J.D. Salinger, Shane Salerno’s “Salinger” turns out to be a hype – an overblown, overlong documentary about a famous writer, with little that is either truly revelatory or earth-shaking, at least if you’ve been paying attention at all for the past, oh, 50 years.
That Salinger inspires this kind of adulatory treatment isn’t a surprise; he was his own best advertisement, simply by making himself unavailable. It was a move to protect his own sanity and he did it early on, before the mass media became the all-encompassing monster that it is today. And, of course, simply saying you want nothing to do with the media marks you as some kind of nutcase, at least in the media’s jaundiced eye.
Salerno is only the latest of a group of would-be biographers (many of whom appear in this film) to try to pierce the Salinger veil of silence. And not just biographers: This film offers examples of the kind of seekers who regularly made the pilgrimage to Cornish, N.H., where Salinger lived, in hopes of gaining an audience – and, as one tells the camera, the secret of life – from the great man. Salinger, an egotist about his writing who nonetheless professed no great wisdom, either evaded them or turned them away.
All of this might be news to the generation of teens just now discovering “The Catcher in the Rye” and the mystery of Salinger himself. But the Salinger mythos was firmly established long before he died in 2010 at the age of 91. Despite Salerno’s (and his distribution company’s) efforts to imply earth-shattering discoveries, there is little that is particularly new – or concrete. If secrets were dynamite, this movie wouldn’t have enough of them to blow its own nose.
This review continues on my website.