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THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD: A soothing portrait of Joan Didion

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If you're looking for an insightful documentary about an interesting woman, you might find it in Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, which you can find on Netflix.

"Just a few minutes into Netflix’s new documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, the famously aloof author is finally laid out before us, recalling the start of her 40-year marriage to John Gregory Dunne. “I don’t know what ‘fall in love’ means,” she says, with surprisingly wild gesticulation for such a small woman known for such seemingly placid prose. “That’s not part of my world.”

Yet the movie, the first documentary ever to be made about the elusive author, is all about love, although it’s not Didion’s so much as Griffin Dunne’s, the film’s director and, not incidentally, Didion’s nephew. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dunne said there was no other way for his film to be: “It was always going to be a love letter. She’s my Aunt Joan.” As a close family member, Dunne was both the only person who could get access to make this film a reality and the wrong person to make it. [...] The challenge for The Center Will Not Hold, then, wasn’t to convince Didion to spill all of her secrets; she’s already published books about nearly every aspect of her life, including the grief she felt over the loss of her husband and the guilt she experienced after the death of her daughter. The film’s—Dunne’s—job was to push past the coy, calculated prose in which those secrets have been packaged in and their packager’s marble facade." (Slate)

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"In one of several genial interviews, Dunne asks Didion about an indelible scene toward the end of her Haight-Ashbury essay—which, as any student who has ever taken a course in literary nonfiction knows, culminates with the writer’s encounter with a five-year-old girl, Susan, whose mother has given her LSD. Didion finds Susan sitting on a living-room floor, reading a comic book and dressed in a peacoat. “She keeps licking her lips in concentration and the only off thing about her is that she’s wearing white lipstick,” Didion writes. Dunne asks Didion what it was like, as a journalist, to be faced with a small child who was tripping. Didion, who is sitting on the couch in her living room, dressed in a gray cashmere sweater with a fine gold chain around her neck and fine gold hair framing her face, begins. “Well, it was . . .” She pauses, casts her eyes down, thinking, blinking, and a viewer mentally answers the question on her behalf: Well, it was appalling. I wanted to call an ambulance. I wanted to call the police. I wanted to help. I wanted to weep. I wanted to get the hell out of there and get home to my own two-year-old daughter, and protect her from the present and the future.After seven long seconds, Didion raises her chin and meets Dunne’s eye. “Let me tell you, it was gold,” she says. The ghost of a smile creeps across her face, and her eyes gleam. “You live for moments like that, if you’re doing a piece. Good or bad. This, too, is gold, as Dunne recognizes.” (The New Yorker)

"It was when Didion asked Dunne to shoot a short promotional video for that last book that Dunne asked for a favor in return: could he make a film about his aunt? “I realized there had never been a documentary about her, by her own choice, so I thought I’d push my luck and ask her if she’ll allow me to make one,” he said. “In typical Joan fashion, she went, ‘Uh, OK,’ and I took that as a yes. Then it really sunk in what an enormous subject I had taken on, how influential [her work’s] been on so many people’s lives, the way they live their lives or where they live or if they become a writer or not. So I felt a real obligation to her readers to get it right.”" (The Guardian)

Check out the trailer below.

Tags:   netflix, news, trailer, television, streaming, The Center Will Not Hold

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