Can you believe it's 2014 and no one has made a documentary about Joan Didion? Neither can Griffin Dunne, Didion's very proud nephew via her late husband, John Gregory Dunne. The younger Dunne, the erstwhile director of Practical Magic, is asking the public for $80,000 to make a movie about his 79-year-old aunt (and maybe a little about himself).
In a trailer for the scrappy indie project promoted on the website of Vogue, Dunne explained the idea's genesis: "We're making it, because, no one else, incredibly, has made a documentary about Joan Didion. It's a mystery." Well, call me Olivia Benson but I'd say that a writer who writes mostly about herself and whose books are widely available to the public might not need a documentary about her. Or if she did, it might benefit by being done from a more detached perspective than that of an opportunistic nephew.
Documentaries of writers have been done before: Fran Lebowitz, Philip Roth, the entire freakin' staff of the New York Review of Books. They're boring. But there's something different about Joan. What is it, exactly? Let's cut to Griffin: "They were my aunt and uncle, but they were also probably the hippest people on earth." Ah, there it is. The cool factor.
Joan Didion isn't just a writer, she's a cool writer. She writes and looks good while doing it. In the '60s and '70s, writing kept her blood warm, but so did being cool, and being Hollywood. Look at her up there, in her Stingray, smokin' a cigarette, all sylphlike and distant. Joan is known as much for her glamorous yet aloof image as for her moral imprimatur. A woman photographed and photographed again, yet all the while seemingly hating being photographed, hating the attention. A pretty neat gambit.
And now, the documentary. Whatever intentional insight it may or may not provide into Didion, at least it can't help but capture the spirit of that commodification. Joan is reportedly in frail health, but the show must go on. The moralist of America must have her story mansplained. If you pledge $2,500 or more, you will receive a pair of Joan's personal sunglasses—"What are one of the most iconic pairs of sunglasses a girl could own? This is your opportunity to see the world as Joan." Limited supply available.