When you run a publication, especially an arts publication, there are often plenty of tributes to important people when they go to spirit. Sometimes rather than writing the standard obituary commending that individual's life, it's more refreshing to examine what their role was in the culture and whether their inheritors grasped the meaning of the late artist's work. These are the questions Kevin Courrier sought to explore when he wrote a piece about author J.D. Salinger a month after he died.
|J.D. Salinger in 1959 (photo by Lotte Jacobi)
Critic Alfred Kazin once wrote that Salinger chose the world of teenagers for his book to provide "a consciousness [among youths]…to speak for them and virtually to them, in a language that is peculiarly honest…with a vision of things that capture their most secret judgments of the world.” But the book questions that judgment by not allowing the reader to take refuge in Holden’s accusations. Rushmore was (as a friend of mine once wisely commented) like The Catcher in the Rye - if written by Holden Caulfield. No director ever truly got the spirit of Salinger right – although Alan J. Pakula came pretty close in the rarely seen The Sterile Cuckoo (1969), an adaptation of John Nichols 1965 novel about an eccentric teenager named “Pookie” Adams (Liza Minnelli) who experiences a painful coming-of-age during college life when she gets involved with a shy, young man (Wendell Burton).
|Wendell Burton and Liza Minnelli
I was lucky to have caught Pari while attending a series on Iranian cinema that same year. At first, not knowing that Pari was based on Franny and Zooey, I was puzzled that I recognized the story. Within the first hour, however, I realized exactly what Mehrjui was doing and what he produced was a remarkably intelligent and thoughtful adaptation of Salinger’s book, something he described as “a cultural exchange.” It’s a shame that Salinger didn’t extend the good will back to Mehrjui. Once his lawyers caught wind of Pari, which was to be screened at the Lincoln Centre in 1998, Salinger had the film pulled from distribution. Pari remains in a cultural abyss.
- originally published on February 1, 2010 in Critics at Large.
– Kevin Courrier is a writer/broadcaster, film critic, teacher and author (Artificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles' Utopian Dream). His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism. In January 2012, at the Miles Nidal Centre JCC in Toronto, Courrier will be doing a lecture series (film clips included) based on Reflections. Check their schedule in December. With John Corcelli, Courrier is currently working on another radio documentary for CBC Radio's Inside the Music called The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney.