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Kurt Vonnegut: ‘Unstuck in Time’ in New Documentary

Documentarian Robert Weide (far right) watches as director Don Argot edits 'Unstuck in Time,' the Kurt Vonnegut documentary.
Documentarian Robert Weide (far right) watches as director Don Argot edits ‘Unstuck in Time,’ the Kurt Vonnegut documentary. IFC Films

“Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”

So goes a key aspect of the plot of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, one of the most influential books of the second half of the twentieth century. The counterculture, campus fans, and critical audience that was growing with the author’s first books exploded with the author’s magnum opus. Vonnegut’s deliberately frail and fragmentary tale of Billy Pilgrim, a salve to the author’s own bewildered survival of a POW camp and the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, helped to define a generation. Besides a perfunctory biography, however, Vonnegut’s own life hasn’t received a critical visual examination — until now.

Now, opening in November from IFC Films, Unstuck in Time recounts Vonnegut’s extraordinary life and the 25-year friendship with the filmmaker who set out to document the author almost 40 years ago. 

In 1982, Robert Weide was just another adolescent enthralled by Vonnegut’s novels. Writing to the author, Wiede was surprised to get a letter back.

“Holy crap. It’s him,” Weide says in the preview.

At 23 years old, Weide proposed creating a documentary about the author’s life. Surprisingly, Vonnegut agreed. In 1988, Weide commenced filming, thinking it would take a few months to raise the needed financing, and figuring he could complete a film within the year. That was 33 years ago.

Instead, the pair struck up a decades-long collaboration that grew into an enduring friendship and finally coalesced into, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time. Filled with rare archival footage and interviews with Vonnegut, family members, and colleagues, Weide’s broad portrait offers an intimate look into the life and work of one of America’s literary giants. 

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“I was always filming on and off with him over the years,” says Weide in the trailer.

Weide’s intimate relationship with the author took him through Vonnegut’s Indianapolis hometown — his boyhood homes, grade school, high school, and other youthful landmarks, to Iowa City, where Vonnegut was a Writer’s Workshop professor in the mid 1960s, even to Vonnegut’s 60th high school reunion.

Unstuck in Time dives into the author’s reminiscences upon his upbringing and his creative output, spanning his childhood, his experience as a World War II POW, his marriage, family, and divorce, and his long years as a struggling writer who worked first as a publicist for General Electric and then as a car salesman to support his family, and through his eventual superstardom, beginning in 1969 following the publication of the antiwar Slaughterhouse-Five.

The documentary covers an almost two decade odyssey where Weide examines Vonnegut’s legacy and the author’s impact on his own life.

Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007. Almost 15 years after his death, Kurt Vonnegut remains one of the most popular literary figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. Readers from one generation to the next continue to find their lives transformed by the author’s cutting comic and cosmic insights. In Unstuck in Time, the audience gets to experience a Vonnegut that extends far beyond the printed page.

Unstuck in Time opens for Video on Demand via IFC Films and in theaters on Nov. 19. You can view the preview below.

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