Critic Alfred Kazin once wrote that Salinger chose the world of teenagers for his book to provide "a consciousness [among youths]…to speak for them and virtually to them, in a language that is peculiarly honest…with a vision of things that capture their most secret judgments of the world.” But the book questions that judgment by not allowing the reader to take refuge in Holden’s accusations. Rushmore was (as a friend of mine once wisely commented) like The Catcher in the Rye - if written by Holden Caulfield. No director ever truly got the spirit of Salinger right – although Alan J. Pakula came pretty close in the rarely seen The Sterile Cuckoo (1969), an adaptation of John Nichols 1965 novel about an eccentric teenager named “Pookie” Adams (Liza Minnelli) who experiences a painful coming-of-age during college life when she gets involved with a shy, young man (Wendell Burton).
|Wendell Burton and Liza Minnelli|
I was lucky to have caught Pari while attending a series on Iranian cinema that same year. At first, not knowing that Pari was based on Franny and Zooey, I was puzzled that I seemed to recognize the story. Within the first hour, however, I realized exactly what Mehrjui was doing – and what he produced was a remarkably intelligent and thoughtful adaptation of Salinger’s book, something he described as “a cultural exchange.” It’s a shame that Salinger didn’t extend the good will back to Mehrjui. Once his lawyers caught wind of Pari, which was to be screened at the Lincoln Centre in 1998, Salinger had the film pulled from distribution. Pari remains in a cultural abyss.
It’s sad that Salinger has now left us, but the good news might be that his estate may soon liberate film-makers to bring his work to the screen. Who knows? Maybe Pari might even see the light of day again. That would be good news indeed. After all, Salinger's American inheritors so far have failed to capture the author's greatest gifts and insights in their own movies. It took an Iranian, coming to terms honestly with his own culture’s trappings and enlightenments, to finally get it right.