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Plimpton!

Overview

Directed by Luke Poling and Tom Bean, the documentary Plimpton! offers a look at the remarkable life of writer George Plimpton. Their subject became famous for trafficking in what he called "participatory journalism," in which he would do something unusual or extraordinary and then relate his experiences. Among his exploits were pitching in the major leagues, playing quarterback in the NFL, and performing a small part on-stage with the New York Philharmonic. The filmmakers use a wealth of voice-overs from ...
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Overview

Directed by Luke Poling and Tom Bean, the documentary Plimpton! offers a look at the remarkable life of writer George Plimpton. Their subject became famous for trafficking in what he called "participatory journalism," in which he would do something unusual or extraordinary and then relate his experiences. Among his exploits were pitching in the major leagues, playing quarterback in the NFL, and performing a small part on-stage with the New York Philharmonic. The filmmakers use a wealth of voice-overs from Plimpton himself to narrate the movie, and also include interviews with various contemporaries and critics.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
It's easy to smile at an assessment of George Plimpton 1927-2003 as a "renaissance man" given the understatement of that remark -- the fact that Plimpton "did" just about everything at one point or another in his life. At once a journalist, literary and social critic, supporting player in Hollywood movies, television pundit, publisher of the Paris Review quarterly, and an Upper East Side bon vivant and raconteur, Plimpton attained pop-culture recognition via his chameleon-like series of attempts to try out various extreme occupations, such as quarterback for the Detroit Lions, goalie for the Boston Bruins, photographer of Playboy centerfolds, and high-wire trapeze artist with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. His experiences in these trades were far more than a gimmick: He wrote about them from the inside, with dispassionate insight and wit, and his articles laid the foundation for New Journalism, one of the most historically important and unique movements in all of American literature. The fact that a documentary profile of Plimpton hasn't already been produced might seem surprising given the wild vicissitudes of his life, but the more one thinks about it, the more sense this makes: He himself was a slippery and elusive figure, a cipher who much preferred observing to being observed, and it would take a preternaturally gifted filmmaker to pin down the shadowy identity behind the many facades. That's one of the central problems of Plimpton!, co-directors Luke Poling and Tom Bean's biographical documentary about the man -- and the main issue that prevents the movie from achieving anything close to greatness. At first glance, it seems to be done with workmanlike efficiency, as contributors such as James Lipton, Peter Matthiessen, and very briefly Hugh Hefner turn up for droll commentary on Plimpton's life and times. But as it rolls forward, you grow increasingly conscious of the fact that the documentary itself has no dramatic structure, no interpretation of Plimpton; it's merely a series of pop-psychoanalytic stabs in the dark on his identity and motivations. Some of this, such as the notion that his occupational drifting grew out of a complex fear of paternal dissatisfaction, is fascinating. But in order for the tropes to stick, they need to be mentioned more than once; there need to be two or three central ideas at the movie's core, and the directors need to find a way to lay them down as a thematic foundation and then gradually build on them, while broadening and deepening our understanding of the subject. That doesn't happen. What we do get is moderately enjoyable -- light, breezy, and undemanding to sit through. It's a casual valentine to Plimpton that's about as entertaining and enlightening as reading one of his literary pieces, watching one of his early-'70s television specials, or reading an Encyclopedia Britannica capsule summary of him. The documentary incorporates several scintillating quotes about the subject particularly from his first wife, Freddy Espy, and makes a solid case for the personal and professional connection between George Plimpton and one of his key mentors and literary predecessors, Ernest "Papa" Hemingway. But the film often focuses on aspects of Plimpton's life that seem tangential to the subject -- such as his campaigning for Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and his inadvertent presence in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen during Kennedy's assassination. And the directors follow these detours while skimming or bounding over other developments in Plimpton's life. For instance, the filmmakers fail to incorporate even a mention of Alex March's 1968 movie Paper Lion let alone clips from it or commentary by star Alan Alda, which comically recreates Plimpton's experiences playing football with the Detroit Lions. Nor are there references to Plimpton's clever Alastair Cook parodies on Disney's Mouseterpiece Theatre in the early-to-mid '80s. Although, as indicated, Hefner does appear for about two seconds, there is no discussion of Plimpton's Playboy experiences behind the camera, which would make great film material, challenging as it is to imagine the subject doing this work. Most unforgivable are the movie's failure to give us a sense of Plimpton's literary catalogue above and beyond two or three of his more than 30 books, and the fact that Plimpton's contributions to the canon of journalism get such short shrift here; the magnificent author Gay Talese turns up, but how could the directors fail to capture his insights into how Plimpton dramatically shaped his own participatory journalism? The absence from the screen of Tom Wolfe -- another charter member of the New Journalism school -- is baffling; he gets a thank you in the production notes of the film, but that's it. Bean and Poling have written that they landed enough material for at least an 18-hour biographical profile of Plimpton; instead, they've given us a cursory overview that barely clocks in at 87 minutes. The need for a longer and deeper movie is clear given the depth and breadth of Plimpton's life, but even within the length of a standard feature film, the documentary could give us a stronger and more cohesive structure and a better-gauged array of clips to support it. As such, the film constitutes a significant misfire.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 6/3/2014
  • UPC: 096009209841
  • Original Release: 2011
  • Rating:

  • Source: Platinum Disc
  • Presentation: Black & White / Color / Wide Screen
  • Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Time: 1:26:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 40,072

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
George Plimpton
Sarah Dudley Plimpton Participant
Terry McDonell Participant
Hugh Hefner Participant
Ken Burns Participant
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Participant
James Lipton Participant
Gay Talese Participant
James Salter Participant
Jay McInerney Participant
Medora Plimpton Participant
Taylor Plimpton Participant
Freddy Plimpton Participant
Oakes Plimpton Participant
Sarah Gay Plimpton Participant
Lewis Lapham Participant
Philip Gourevitch Participant
Graydon Carter Participant
Albert Maysles Participant
Walon Green Participant
Mel Stuart
Ric Burns Participant
Tony Hendra Participant
Bill Becker Participant
Jonathan Dee Participant
Rose Styron Participant
Piedy Lumet Participant
Christopher Cerf Participant
Edward Lamont Participant
Gerry Cheevers Participant
Colleen Coyne Participant
Robert Cobb Participant
Bill Dow Participant
Leon Gast Participant
Felix Grucci Participant
Fayette Hickox Participant
Bob Johnson Participant
Elaine Kaufman Participant
Norris Mailer
Peter Matthiessen Participant
Jeanne McCulloch Participant
Mike Milbury Participant
Tom Nowatzke Participant
Joe Schmidt Participant
Tim Seldes Participant
Robert Silvers
Harry Sinden Participant
Lorin Stein Participant
Remar Sutton Participant
Technical Credits
Tom Bean Director, Cinematographer, Producer, Screenwriter
Luke Poling Director, Cinematographer, Producer, Screenwriter
Phyllis Alexander Executive Producer
Michael Anastasi Sound/Sound Designer
Mark Degli Antoni Score Composer
Jerry Barca Associate Producer
Toby Barlow Executive Producer
Bill Deacon Executive Producer
William R. Hearst III Executive Producer
Dennis Joyce Executive Producer
Terry McDonell Producer
Kris Meyer Executive Producer
Adam Roffman Producer
Joseph Saroufim Associate Producer
Antonio Weiss Executive Producer
Susannah Weiss Executive Producer
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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Plimpton!
1. Chapter 1 [8:59]
2. Chapter 2 [9:00]
3. Chapter 3 [8:59]
4. Chapter 4 [8:59]
5. Chapter 5 [9:00]
6. Chapter 6 [8:59]
7. Chapter 7 [8:59]
8. Chapter 8 [9:00]
9. Chapter 9 [8:59]
10. Chapter 10 [5:17]
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Menu

Disc #1 -- Plimpton!
   Play
   Chapter Selection
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