BOOTLEG FILES 497: “The Catcher in the Rye” (an unauthorized 2012 film version of the J.D. Salinger novel, made by Colombian ninth graders).
LAST SEEN: The full film is on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Ol’ Jerry never allowed anyone to make a film from his novel.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Nope.
A new documentary on the life of J.D. Salinger just came out, and its arrival will probably generate more attention to a question that puzzled many people: why has there never been a film version of Salinger’s classic novel “The Catcher in the Rye”?
The answer is a bit complicated. For starters, Salinger was unhappy with Hollywood after his short story “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn and turned into the 1949 film “My Foolish Heart.” It seems that Goldwyn took significant liberties with Salinger’s material, and the author reportedly wanted nothing more to do with the movie world following that flick’s release.
When “The Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951, Hollywood was still operating under the repressive Production Code – and even if Salinger wanted to sell the film rights, it would have been impossible for any producer to circumvent the Production Code and maintain the coarse language and adult situations that permeated Salinger’s story. Despite inquiries from Goldwyn, Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder, Salinger refused to sell the film rights – he would rather have no film instead of a bowdlerized version.
But even after the Production Code disintegrated, Salinger would not consider a film version of his book. Such diverse talents as Marlon Brando, Jerry Lewis, Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio hit the proverbial brick wall in trying to deal with the reclusive novelist. At the time of Salinger’s death in 2010, the book remained off-limits to Hollywood.
However, over the past couple of years, student filmmakers have blithely ignored copyright laws in pursuit of their own film versions of “The Catcher in the Rye.” Some of these films are merely trailers of would-be feature films, but a few Salinger-addicted youths have created featurettes based on the book. Perhaps the most ambitious unauthorized film adaptation is a 2012 production created by ninth graders at the Gimnasia La Montaña, a school located Bogata, Colombia.
This Colombian student film version of “The Catcher in the Rye” is unusual because the production was shot in English, rather than Spanish. As a result, the cast recites Salinger’s distinctive dialogue in heavily accented English. Although some unintentional laughs can be found here (the youth playing the irate cabbie curses with an angry “For Chris sake!”), it is extremely impressive for a student film to be shot entirely in a foreign language. Quite frankly, the smart young people on both sides of the camera deserve respect for trying something of this nature.
Perhaps confirming Salinger’s fear of taking liberties with his work, this version of “The Catcher in the Rye” makes several changes. This film begins with Holden Caulfield explaining his misadventures to a female doctor – thus telegraphing the denouement explanation of Holden’s mental breakdown. The sequence involving the prostitute and her pimp is cut from the film, and nearly all of the profane language is omitted (although a couple of F-bombs are flung towards the end of the film). And since it is impossible for the Colombian students to recreate New York City in the early 1950s, the film is now set in contemporary times in an unidentified suburban setting.
Of course, the film follows the protocol that one expects from student filmmaking. For starters, this version of “The Catcher in the Rye” takes place in a world that consists almost entirely of teenagers. Thus, the “adults” in the story (as well as Holden’s kid sister Phoebe) are played by teens that appear to be same age as Holden. The only genuine adult to be trusted with dialogue is a bearded man playing Mr. Spencer.
Furthermore, the young filmmakers try to work around the limitations of their no-budget production, with varying results. Sometimes they succeed – the nuns that engage Holden in a conversation on “Romeo and Juliet” are played by two girls dressed in nuns’ habits. Sometimes, however, problems are too obvious to ignore – Holden’s bloody face following his fight with Stradlater looks like it was drowned in ketchup, while one outdoor scene has pedestrians holding umbrellas while the sun is shining above them.
But, ultimately – and, perhaps, incredibly – this take on “The Catcher on the Rye” works. In many ways, the film refutes claims by Salinger that the story could not be properly adapted into the cinematic medium. I would go so far to say that this little film improves on Salinger’s text in its careful depiction of the physical and emotional isolation that entraps Holden. Throughout the film, Holden is surrounded by people – and still, he remains adrift in a hostile and confusing world. He is unable to appreciate any degree of friendship or emotional bonding, and the film is especially effective in retaining the disturbing scene where Holden reacts violently to Mr. Antolini’s too-affectionate attention.
Also, the film manages to scrub away a lot of the abrasive and obnoxious aspects of Holden’s character. Much of the credit here belongs to Luis Eduardo Mojica, a charismatic young man that plays Holden with a remarkable mix of angst and anger. Mojica captures Holden’s hostility and confusion, but he never antagonizes the viewer with the smart aleck posturing that Salinger injected into his book (and which, quite frankly, irritated many critics of the work).
Three young people – Luz Maria Sanchez, Santiago Vasquez and Juan David Forero – are credited as director. Quite frankly, they did a wonderful job in bringing this complex and controversial book to cinematic life. This version of “The Catcher in the Rye” offers intelligent cinematography (by Santiago Vasquez) and editing (by Juan Felipe Prada) which better than many so-called professional films. I am not certain if this endeavor was part of a filmmaking class, but I would hope that the directors continue to pursue filmmaking as a career.
Needless to say, this unauthorized film could never be released commercially. However, it is on YouTube, and I would recommend that Salinger fans take some time to check out the production.
And, seriously, I hope that the executors of the Salinger estate watch this film – if only to realize that “The Catcher in the Rye” could make a great film. And if the alleged professionals in Hollywood cannot be trusted with Salinger’s vision, then maybe someone should give these wonderful young people in Colombia the right to show their film in proper commercial release. Because, seriously, this is one of the best student films that I’ve ever seen.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!