Movie Review: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself (2013)


Title: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself
Release Date: 22 May 2013
Director: Tom Bean & Luke Poling
Production Company: Joyce Entertainment | The Offices of SPECTRE
Summary/Review:

I enjoyed seeing George Plimpton’s tv appearances when I was a kid, and I read several of his books, and even saw him speak once when I was in college.  So I was delighted that the Brattle Theatre hosted a virtual screening of a documentary about Plimpton’s life.

George Plimpton was a tall, patrician-looking man from Manhattan’s Upper East Side and descended from a prominent New England family.  After World War II he founded and edited The Paris Review which became a leading literary journal publishing the top authors of the latter half of the 20th century.

And yet he is most famous for his experiments in participatory journalism, particularly in sports, where he pitched to Major League Baseball stars, played quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and served as goalkeeper for the Boston Bruins.  Outside of sports, he played a small role in a John Wayne Western, participated in a trapeze act, and played the triangle for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  His articles and books about these experiences provided an “everyman” perspective on the type of achievements that only a small number of people can do.

Plimpton’s charm and affable personality helped him find acceptance among the groups of professionals he covered as well as regular spots as a guest on talk and variety shows.  Interviewees in the movie say that Plimpton was a hard to get to know beneath his persona.  He had a love for celebrity that manifested itself in parties and literary salons, but he also hid considerable self-doubt about his own writing ability.  Plimpton was friends with the Kennedy family and traveled with Robert Kennedy on his 1968 presidential campaign.  Along with Rafer Johnson and Rosie O’Grier, he wrestled Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan to the ground, and incident that Plimpton never wrote or spoke about publicly.

The movie shows the funny, charming side of Plimpton that made him the celebrity I remember from my childhood.  But it also peels back the public persona of someone with severe impostor’s syndrome about being among the literary luminaries of his time. His family seem to be embarrassed that Plimpton became a pitchman for various products, but it also showed his dedication to getting money to keep the Paris Review alive.

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself is a good documentary that looks into the life of an unlikely celebrity and his times.

Rating: ***1/2