There is nothing more routine than the process of turning books into movies. Most often they are hurled, spineless, into some roiling vat somewhere in California, where a rotating team of screenwriters and script doctors take turns stirring the pot. It’s a long process filled with starts and stops and thoughts of beginning again, and in the end, the most common output is a soft bland porridge that retains only a faint whiff of whatever singular aroma made the original so special.
When one considers the smorgasbord of rich novels that have been watered down for the screen over the years, it’s no surprise that so many writers have been wary of adaptation. This week, though, books and their authors get a bit of payback when a literary legend comes to the big screen—not in an adaptation, but as the subject of a remarkable documentary that does something surprising: it makes us long for books.
I’m talking about Salinger, a new film from Shane Salerno that hits area screens this weekend (an in-depth companion book was published by Simon & Schuster this week). The 40-year-old Salerno might seem a surprising man for the project—his recent credits include writing an Aliens vs. Predator movie—but he has pulled together a piece of work that not only shines a light on the famously reclusive writer’s past life, but also dangles some tantalizing hints about the future of his literary legacy: it turns out that Salinger, who died in 2010 at the age of 91, may have a few books left in him yet.
It’s been known for years that Salinger continued to write long after he stopped publishing, but until now there hasn’t been any real reason to imagine that the author planned to publish again. But according to Salerno and his sources—although kept anonymous and unaware of one another, Salerno claims they told the same story—there are some five or more books in the publishing pipeline, due to begin trickling out in the next few years. For book lovers, this is the equivalent of finding a lost Beatles album.
The question of whether Salerno’s claims hold water may have to wait. In the meantime, his film remains a testament to the enduring hold Salinger’s work has on a wide swath of America. Writers, actors, and more gather to discuss the Salinger’s influence on their own career paths and on creative culture in general (when I was a young man, he was the first person who made me think writing could be fun). They also try—while recounting the three shootings (John Lennon, Ronald Reagan, and actress Rebecca Schaeffer) linked to the book—to probe the later years of Salinger’s life, when he disappeared into his concrete bunker in Cornish, N.H., to write in private. As actor Danny DeVito puts it in the film: “We all like a mystery.”
Also this week: Shelburne Falls’ Pothole Pictures brings an under-appreciated film back to the Valley for two shows this weekend. Goodbye Solo is the story of Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané), a Senegalese cab driver building a new life in Winston-Salem, N.C. Though he’s brightly optimistic by nature, Solo is tested when he picks up William, a crusty white Southerner who offers Solo a big fare for a one way trip to the top of Blowing Rock National Park—a place where the snow blows upward and old men, apparently, go to die. Neither man broaches the true subject of the trip, but as Solo and William begin to know each other, they start to form a bond that Solo hopes will keep him from accepting William’s fare.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart) with an assured and easygoing steadiness, Goodbye Solo is an independent movie that has no need of quirkiness, slackers, or self-aware ironic detachment. Instead it is a warm-hearted and big-hearted story about two men, each with their own struggles, coming together to help prop each other up. In an era when so many indie films seem like excuses for great soundtracks, we could use more films like his.•
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.