Where do I start with a review of this documentary? Should I get personal and thank my brother for leaving Vonnegut novels around in the early 70’s which I picked up and read. My first Vonnegut novel was “Slaughterhouse Five” that was unlike any piece of fiction I had read. Billy Pilgrim a prisoner of World War 2 captured in the Battle of the Bulge transported to imprisonment in a former swine slaughterhouse number 5 in Dresden, Germany safely locked in the basement as Dresden was firebombed in 1944 and reduced to rubble. Billy Pilgrim was then unstuck in time travelling from past to future and to different planets. Mating with was it Montana Wildhack a porn star in a zoo on some strange planet. An ophthalmologist from Indiana.
I was suckered into a whole series of novels, “Breakfast of Champions” and “Welcome to the Monkey House” to name a few. I was never a fan of American literature although there have been flashes of brilliance with Ken Kesey’s “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, James Baldwin’s “Notes From a Native Son” and J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” but has there been the consistency that Vonnegut produced? Now you professors of American literature get your scissors out and cut me up as an ignorant illiterate Canadian!
Director Robert B. Weide (often a director of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) followed Vonnegut for 40 years before taking a deep breath and crafting this documentary and it is a valiant attempt to compress 40 years into a little bit over two hours.
There is no sense in summarize the documentary. But what will it do? If you are a Vonnegut fan you will understand his background and gain a better understanding of what he wrote. If you are Vonnegut deprived it is a fascinating study of a novelist and his struggle for recognition and the toll such a journey takes upon the writer and his social circle. For me after reading “Slaughterhouse Five” I understand its characters are tied up with Vonnegut’s childhood. God bless Indiana! As Kurt said his role as a journalist in his high school paper was spill the beans in the beginning of the story to get readers interested! That is much in the style of his novels he says.
After 40 years of following Vonnegut Weide could have made a documentary that could have lasted hours with an intermission 2 hours in, Like “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Exodus”. However we get what we get and it is good that it reveals Vonnegut the man. Weide scratches the surface but thank goodness he had the fortitude to condense 40 years into two hours and 27 minutes.
So what is the conclusion to be drawn? All those moldy yellowed books of Vonnegut novels that would have lead to some respiratory disease if they had been kept longer by me need to be replaced.
A fascinating and courageous effort by Weide to present a fair picture of what one day may be said to be America’s greatest novelist’. Vonnegut died after a slip and fall in 2007 aged 84. Rest in Peace with Kafka, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Mann, Richler and Solynetzin.
(“Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time”, Director Robert B. Weide and Don Argott, 127 Minutes, USA, 2021, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Nov 24/25/27/29)
The Hot Docs website can be accessed here https://hotdocscinema.ca/