Atlanta Film Festival 2013 | Day 2

atlantaFF 2013_75The fact that George Plimpton was terrible at nearly every stunt he tried was part of the charm.


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If ever a man embodied the expression “famous for being famous,” that man was George Plimpton, the subject of Tom Bean and Luke Poling’s documentary Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself. Born to a wealthy New York family and gifted with good looks and charm, not to mention a plummy accent, Plimpton managed to portray himself as an everyman in a series of stunts—among them pitching to major-leaguers in an exhibition game, sparring with Archie Moore, playing goalie in an NHL preseason game, and running a few plays from quarterback during a Detroit Lions intrasquad game—which he then wrote about, sometimes with best-selling results. The fact that Plimpton was terrible at nearly every stunt he tried was part of the charm. Plimpton also edited The Paris Review, supporting it financially for years, and was a famous party-giver among the literary set, a fact remembered somewhat less fondly by other members of his family. As one of his kin notes, George was all about whatever George wanted to do at the moment, and expected everyone around him to pitch in and make it happen.

Particularly if you’ve drunk the Plimpton Kool-Aid, this is a fun, fast-moving documentary that makes good use of archival footage and interviews, combined with a pleasant score by Mark De Gli Antoni, to give you some sense of what it must have been like a literary/journalistic star in the 1960s. What Plimpton! lacks is any desire to pursue hard questions (like how much of Plimpton’s success was due to family money and connections, or what role the CIA played in The Paris Review) or to create a fuller portrait of the times in which he lived, when New Journalism was all the rage and writers enjoyed the kind of fame now reserved primarily for professional athletes and musicians. Also skimmed over is an examination of how Plimpton used the access he gained through his stunts to produce distinctive journalism, which may be his greatest legacy.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me add that I didn’t see Plimpton! under the best of conditions—the first 15 minutes or so of the film were plagued by recurring halts and skips of the sort that really take you right out of the experience. The advertisements aired before this film played smoothly and without difficulty, so I’m going to assume that there was a flaw in the copy of the film provided to the festival, or a mismatch between the Plaza Theatre’s equipment and said copy.

Submit* the Documentary: The Virtual Reality of Cyberbullying, directed by Muta’ Ali Muhammad, is a well-meaning but amateurish effort intended to raise awareness of the problem of cyberbullying. It may serve that purpose by being shown in schools and to community groups as a way to inform people and spark discussion, particularly among adults who, the film suggests, are frequently not aware of the scope of the problem. Unfortunately, the importance of the topic does not mean that the film itself is good, and in fact it fails in many ways, from the amazingly bad technical quality of some of the clips included to the tendency to rely on tearful testimony rather than analysis. In the end, the main solution offered is that people should be taught to cultivate empathy and follow the golden rule, which isn’t a bad idea—although it’s hardly unique and unlikely to be a sufficient response to a serious problem. | Sarah Boslaugh

[Since writing this review, I have been informed by Krystin Matysik, the Marketing Director for Submit* the Documentary, that what was shown at the Atlanta Film Festival was the rough cut rather than the final version of the film (it was not announced as such as the time). I have not seen the final version of Submit* the Documentary and these remarks apply to the rough cut as shown at the Atlanta Film Festival.]

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