Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time REVIEW
REBEKAH DAVIES reviews an extraordinary documentary about an extraordinary author screening this week at the NZ International Film Festival.
Over the course of 40 years, Bob Wiede cultivated not only a documentary film but a friendship with the arch, satyrical, enfant terrible Kurt Vonnegut. Starting as a raucous and engaging, yet fairly conventional biographical dive into the life of the writer and raconteur, soon a parallel narrative of Wiede’s deepening attachment to Vonnegut emerges: transitioning from artist/fan acquaintance to extended family.
The horrors of Vonnegut’s World War II deployment in Dresden before its fall is but one quietly sobering interlude in this depiction of his colourful life. Slaughterhouse-Five was not only hugely successful and influential to a nascent generation of writers and free thinkers alike, it quietly functioned as a personal exorcism of the atrocities Vonnegut witnessed in wartime, mixed into a fantastical sci-fi dreamscape inhabited by his best-known protagonist, Billy Pilgrim.
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Vonnegut was born and raised up in gay prosperity, abruptly obliterated by the Great Depression. The repercussions of this – combined with familial tragedies he never fully recovered from – compelled him as a young man and new father to submit short stories to popular periodicals while still working as a low-level copywriter at General Electric. A little know fact is there would be no Vonnegut, as we know him, without the fierce devotion and unyielding support of his first wife, Jane; it’s mentioned more than once that she made him read The Brothers Karamazov on their honeymoon.
Lovers of Vonnegut, the blissfully oblivious, along with the cursory admirer, will all find something to enjoy about this thoughtful and lovingly crafted film. Wiede’s difficulty in finishing what he started in the ’70s, as a young man beginning his career in entertainment (a man who now has multiple Emmys for his work on the show Curb Your Enthusiasm) ends up becoming one of the film’s greatest strengths. The result? A profound, unflinching, voluminous, heartfelt dive into the life of one of the 20th century’s most inventive authors.
So it goes.
+ See www.nziff.co.nz for screening times and venues around New Zealand.