Film promising revelations about reclusive Catcher in the Rye author has been snapped up by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein
Called simply Salinger, the film is the brainchild of Shane Salerno, who has spent nine years writing, producing and directing the project, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money. The move is a major shift in career for Salerno, best known as a writer of mainstream blockbusters such as Alien vs Predator: Requiem and Armageddon.
But the promise of lifting the lid on the life of one of America's most revered writers has proven a massive lure to Hollywood. Salinger has been bought up by independent film mogul Harvey Weinstein after he reportedly saw a private screening of it at 7.30 on the morning of the Oscars. Even though the screening did not apparently include all of the film's most confidential revelations, he snapped it up immediately.
In fact, so impressed have its backers been with what Salerno and his team have uncovered they are also releasing a TV show based on the documentary and have struck a deal with publisher Simon and Schuster to bring out a book called The Private War of JD Salinger.
With Salerno not giving press interviews, there has been feverish speculation about details of new love affairs and rumours of unpublished manuscripts. One of the few hints is a statement Salerno made announcing the book deal. "The myth that people have read about and believed for 60 years about JD Salinger is one of someone too pure to publish, too sensitive to be touched. We replace the myth of Salinger with an extraordinarily complex, deeply contradictory human being. Our book offers a complete revaluation and reinterpretation of the work and the life," he said.
That is a bold claim to make about one of the world's most elusive figures, who died at the age of 91 in 2010. Though the publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951 made him rich and famous, Salinger fled the spotlight. In 1953 he left New York to live in a secluded rural compound in Cornish, New Hampshire. His published literary output dwindled and he eschewed virtually all media interviews. His last published work came out in 1965, and his last interview – which Salinger appeared to have been tricked into giving – was in 1980.
Ironically, many believe Salinger's quest for privacy actually stoked far more fascination. "In keeping himself isolated, it excited people," said Tom Paine, a Salinger fan and the author of a collection of short stories and the novel The Pearl of Kuwait.
Indeed, few authors can claim to have inspired so many people with such a small body of work. His stories seem to have captured the angst of youth and modern life. "He was a writer who was more of a spiritual seeker than just a storyteller. He was trying to use fiction not only to tell a story, but to parallel his own spiritual development," said Paine.
But some have not reacted well to Salerno's project. Though he claims to have interviewed as many as 200 people, Salinger's son, Matthew Salinger, told the New York Times recently that his father's inner circle of friends numbered just a few and none had co-operated with the project. "There were barely enough people to form a circle in the last 30 or 40 years," he told the newspaper.
That comment has drawn a swift rebuttal. In a statement, the Weinstein company said Salerno had gained "unprecedented access" to people around Salinger. "With due respect to Matt Salinger, he has not seen the film. We've seen the film, and unfortunately Matt Salinger does not have accurate information," it said.
Either way, speculation about the film will stoke massive interest in its subject: something that many fans see as a double-edged sword. Certainly, not all intend to watch it, out of a belief that Salinger himself would have been horrified by the idea. "I am very much in two minds about the documentary. It seems deeply wrong, carnivorous and hurtful, even though I am perhaps hungry to know what is in it," said Paine.