Part of Shane Salerno's film about The Catcher in the Rye author is screened at Cannes after nine years in production
Charlotte Higgins in Cannes
It has been veiled in mystery and speculation, and has been nine years in the making. But now a few minutes of the highly anticipated documentary about JD Salinger by Shane Salerno – chiefly known as a writer of action films including Savages and Alien vs Predator – has been shown at the Cannes film festival.
Through a bafflingly fast-paced montage of clips, showing fragments of interviews with figures such as Tom Wolfe, EL Doctorow and the late Gore Vidal, the preview hinted at, rather than delivered, revelations about the writer's existence after he withdrew from public life in 1965, living in seclusion and no longer publishing though, it is speculated, writing feverishly until his death in 2010.
Asked whether the film, which is due for release in the autumn, contained any hard revelations about The Catcher in the Rye author's reclusive life, Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company is handling the movie, said, "It depends how you define a great revelation. I hope the audience will keep the secret of the film, and won't tell their neighbours, just like they did for The Crying Game. If I told you what it was they'd kill me. Shane Salerno directed Savages, so I am definitely not going to tell you."
The preview contained enigmatic references to the "huge bunker" in which Salinger apparently wrote; "the biggest secret of his lifetime"; "two thick manuscripts" and an interviewee tearfully referring to "the saddest thing I have ever read".
There were also hints about the mental aftermath of his serving in the war and the psychological effect of his most famous work having been adduced as an influence on a number of high-profile murderers, most famously Mark David Chapman, who shot John Lennon, and who was found with a copy of the novel inscribed with the words "This is my statement".
On a personal note, Weinstein revealed that he had repeatedly written to Salinger ("one letter, then another letter, then about 50 letters") asking for permission to make The Catcher in the Rye into a film. Through the documentary, he learned that he was "about 9,000th in line" with Elia Kazan "at number one" and "Mike Nicholls also in high consideration". Salinger authorised no film adaptations of his stories after an unsatisfactory version of his Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, transformed into My Foolish Heart (1949) by director Mark Robson.