Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

July 7, 2022

Documentary, Film Festival, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

… an elegant, finely crafted work …
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Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Annette Basile
Year: 2021
Rating: M
Director: Robert B. Weide, Don Argott
Cast:

Kurt Vonnegut, Robert B. Weide, Nanny Vonnegut, Edie Vonnegut, Mark Vonnegut

Distributor: Madman
Released: July 7, 2022
Running Time: 126 minutes
Worth: $19.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

… an elegant, finely crafted work …

The title refers to author Kurt Vonnegut’s most enduring character, Billy Pilgrim, who became ‘unstuck in time’, moving back and forth across the years at random, without control, without chronology. Pilgrim, like Vonnegut, was an American POW in Germany during World War II, and survived the Allied bombing of Dresden. The city was destroyed. Both the author and his fictional creation were left traumatised.

This wasn’t the only tragedy in the late, great writer’s life, and this film explores it all. There are extensive interviews with Vonnegut in this documentary that was roughly 40 years in the making. He’s funny, profound, jovial – but a darker, moodier side is revealed in interviews with his family…

One of the great losses in his life was that of his sister, Alice. She and her husband died within days of each other, leaving four sons, who Vonnegut adopted. The four are interviewed here, middle-aged and all sitting lined up on a couch, talking about how scary their uncle-father could be. Kurt’s daughters Edie and Nanny, and son Mark, confirm it – he was difficult. But they all speak of him with such love and insight that the family interviews are as interesting as Vonnegut’s. Kurt Vonnegut was a writer first, a family man second.

Director Robert B. Weide is part of this documentary (in a very personal, emotional way at one point near the end). Not long into the proceedings, you wonder for a moment if this could have been called ‘Kurt and Me’. But Weide acknowledges nobody wants to see a movie about him, and he gets out of the way for the most part.

Weide – who befriended Vonnegut decades ago – has been criticised for putting himself into this film, which misses the point – he’s made a brilliant documentary. It’s an elegant, finely crafted work, editing together animation, archival footage, interviews and home movies into a seamless, beautiful whole. He anchors Vonnegut’s career to the times. Everything is in context, in perspective.

When on hiatus from making Unstuck In Time, Weide adapted Vonnegut’s satirical novel Mother Night for the big screen. Weide, also known for making a series of films about comedians, has the king of comedy in his contact list – Seinfeld co-creator Larry David – and directed numerous episodes of David’s off-the-wall TV classic, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

For admirers of Vonnegut, this is a must-see. But it also serves as an introduction for newcomers, and in the grander scheme, it’s a portrait of a family, of fame and of changing times, making it one for documentary lovers in general.

The extended running time gives the film breathing space, room for detail. It’s two plus hours in Kurt Vonnegut’s – and his family’s – extraordinary company.

Also screening at the 2022 Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

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