Thursday, June 13, 2013
To some extent a biographical documentary such as Tom Bean's and Luke Poling's "Plimpton!" (to which they've added the unnecessary subtitle "Starring George Plimpton as Himself") will always be a referendum on the subject.
I was born too late to live through Plimpton's most celebrated examples of what he called "participatory journalism" (including playing goalie for the Boston Bruins, getting into the boxing ring with Archie Moore, and serving as the "last-string" quarterback for the Detroit Lions, a season that gave rise to the bestseller "Paper Lion," still considered perhaps the preeminent sports book of all time). I only got to know of him by the time he was doing anti-Atari ads for Intellivision.
After watching Bean's and Poling's fond yet fair and even-handed film, though, I'm eager to read some of his books I've never gotten around to, maybe pick up a copy of his beloved Paris Review which everything else he did in life he did to make money to keep afloat. (He notes in footage here that the only person he ever saw pay for an issue was Ernest Hemingway.) His parties attracted all the literati; there's a photo from one here with Papa himself, as well as Norman Mailer, William Styron, Gay Talese, Allen Ginsberg, and on and on and on.
Plimpton's self-deprecating wit brings a lot of big laughs to the film, but by the end it's achieved a rare poignancy. In a world of people who talk about living life to the fullest, here's a man who actually did. His son Taylor reads one of his essays very late in the film, about the limitless possibilities in life, and how all one must do is choose one (or a hundred) before the sun sets. I'm not ashamed to admit, I had a big old lump in my throat.