In a world full of chaos, absurdity, tragedy and Stranger Things, it’s always nice to find some larger perspective in a good old fashioned documentary. And the latest on writer Joan Didion is that. Few names have encouraged an entire generation of people and writers the way she has. And just a few minutes into the new, and only, documentary on her life (that she participated in) The Center Will Not Hold, we are introduced to her mystique. Mostly known as a novelist who reflects on the most painful aspects of life, we are given unfiltered access to those channels of emotion as she agreed to speak only with her immediate family on camera for the film. What comes across is a glamorous and fascinating sparrow, dubbed a fashion icon for decades, and who still dons the oversized glasses that obscure half her face. Beneath, we find ghostly smiles and the truthful wisdom found only in those who’ve trudged (and emerged) from from years of experience and grief.
Working since the ‘60s — her first job was at Vogue after winning a writing contest — Didion has written a variety of esays, magazine articles and novels — all with an unprecedented way of conjuring up deeper layers than what meets the eye.
The documentary (that was released Friday) touches on all aspects of her writing. From screenplays, to essays, novels to politics, fiction and everything in between. She’s rubbed shoulders with social elites through her prose and lends insight on the very nonfiction evening when she came across, and interviewed, a 5 year old child on acid in San Francisco. That story alone is worth the watch. As the documentary unfolds we witness her speaking wildly with her hands, giving arm-waving pauses when questioned, seemingly grabbing the words and insights right out of the air around her, only adding to the allure.
An insider view of a life that inspired people world wide, this streaming documentary serves as a love letter. A love letter to the reminder that meaning can be found, even when we’re not looking for it, in a world that truly looks like the center will not hold yet another day, she comes forth to remind us that, just around the edges, there will always be something that shines. —Brady Field
Books by Didion to check out at the library (or download on your Kindle if you must):
The Year of Magical Thinking:
South and West:
Slouching Toward Bethlehem: