Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time
Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
As the filmmaker himself acknowledges, it's hard not to get on screen and explain the making of this film when it's been going on for 40 years, outliving its own subject and intertwining itself into both men's lives. Bob Weide (yes, that one) started the project in college by asking to shoot some footage of his favorite author, and over time the men became friends, and now Vonnegut's long dead and Weide is in his sixties and finishing at last the great unfinished project of his life. Normally it would be strange for a film to become so much about the making of itself instead of its ostensible subject, but for an author like Vonnegut, some meta-textualism feels appropriate. My only disappointment is that the film does not do much jumping around in time, as Billy Pilgrim did and Vonnegut seems to do himself sometimes in his rambling stories.
The film is funny and heartfelt, and a treasure trove of insights into Vonnegut's life and writing. It's also a remarkable document of a American century, starting as it does with its first footage shot around 1926 and its last around 2019. It shows the 180-degree turn that America took during that time, from saving the world from invaders to becoming the invaders ourselves, and shows what a similar revolution we've had in media and culture. And through it all is Vonnegut, laughing and smoking and saying terrible things with a restless wit. What a gift he had.