Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

In Films by Paula Hammond - Features Editor

There’s an old adage that you should never find out too much about your heroes. No matter how brilliant they are, they are, after all, only human and rarely stand up to scrutiny.

Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm) has spent decades doing just that—scrutinising a personal hero, who later became his friend.

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is a decades-in-the-making feature directed by Emmy Award-winner Weide. Shooting began in 1988, when the then fledging filmmaker wrote a tentative letter to his literary idol proposing a documentary about his life and work. The resulting went far beyond that initial admiration, to become a genuine bond between the two iconic creatives.

The result is an astonishingly revealing, beautifully rich, but almost unbearably moving tribute to a true American literary legend—and (perhaps more importantly) to Weide’s friend. Often the surprise is that we learn just as much about Bob Weide, as we do about Kurt Vonnegut, whose impact on Weide’s life, has clearly been significant.

Released in the centenary year of Vonnegut’s birth, Weide takes us through a non-linear roller coaster of Vonnegut’s life, supplemented with a wealth of never-before-seen footage. 

The result is not just a superb introduction to Vonnegut for the uninitiated, but an astonishing achievement. Weide manages to be intimate, without being voyouristic, self-referential, without being navel-gazing, inquisitive, without being intrusive.

Of course, we all knew that Kurt Vonnegut was smart, funny, prescient and, above all, relatable. Of course, we all love his work, and have found solace in his words, his world-building, and his philosophy. But a significant part of Vonnegut’s back-catalogue is all about denial and obscification. He laughs at life’s horrors and absurdities, because the alternative is too painful. Thankfully Weide proves himself to be every inch the man you might have hoped.

This is not the type of documentary where the point appears to be, not to celebrate the subject, but to tear him down. While Weide encourages Vonnegut’s reminiscences, he never steps over the line to chase a tantalising story, or get a ‘big reveal’.  He never tries to give us too much. And in doing so, he gives us even more.