Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (2021)

Directed By: Robert B. Weide, Don Argott

Starring: Robert B. Weide, Jerome Klinkowitz, Sidney Offit, Kurt Vonnegut

Plot Summary: KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME is a dazzling, worthy tribute to Vonnegut and a compelling introduction for the uninitiated. The feature documentary — the first of its kind on Vonnegut — is a deep, immersive dive into the author’s upbringing and his creative output. It spans his childhood in Indianapolis, his experience as a Prisoner of War in World War II, his marriage, family, and divorce, his early careers as a publicist for General Electric and a car salesman, and his long years as a struggling writer, leading to eventual superstardom in 1969 following the publication of his lightning-bolt anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The film began 39 years ago when young, struggling filmmaker Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth) wrote a letter to his literary idol proposing a documentary on Vonnegut’s life and work. Shooting began in 1988 and the resulting film reflects the friendship and bond Weide and Vonnegut formed over the decades. In the film, past, present, and future cease to become linear as Weide strives to get an overview of his subject’s life and his own role in it. KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK TIME is first and foremost a biography of a beloved American author. But it also documents a filmmaker’s odyssey as he examines the impact of a writer’s legacy on his own life, extending far beyond the printed page.

Photo Credit: IFC Films

Kurt Vonnegut, writer of such books as Slaughterhouse Five, is often considered to be among the most important literary figures of the twentieth century. Filmmaker Robert Weide truly gets at the very heart and soul of the talented man in a way that is staggering. Unstuck in Time tells two stories, chiefly the life and work of Vonnegut but also about the unlikely friendship between Vonnegut and filmmaker Weide. It’s clear that Weide (two-time Emmy winner and Oscar nominated director) has a lot of respect and love for Kurt, and this film is not only a documentary but a sincere love letter. Fleshing this out is an incredible number of interviews, letters and rare home movies and photos. Weide even saved answer machine messages left by Vonnegut. Family members and close friends further help put the mythic man into perspective. The movie thankfully doesn’t feel streamlined and allows room to really get at the heart of not only the author but huge life events like World War II.

Wisely, this documentary doesn’t sugar coat some of the more toxic-aspects of the author including cheating on his wife and being emotionally distant from his kids. Weide and Argott understand that artists/geniuses are complicated creatures, and they allow you to see his humanity to balance this. Achieving this is candid footage Weide shot over the years. This peering into the more intimate side of the humorist and author is I think what is truly special about this documentary outside of the wealth of archival material. By the end of the over-two-hour long film, you feel like you personally went on this journey into not only this brilliant writer’s life but the decades-long friendship between Weide and Vonnegut. It may seem overly long but I think that someone this important deserves an unrushed and in-depth portrait. As someone who is not only a huge fan of Vonnegut’s work but also a struggling author and writer, I found it vastly inspiring. For fans and those new to Vonnegut’s work this is a must-watch.

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