Radical Wolfe (2023)

68% – Critics
78% – Audience

Radical Wolfe Storyline

From a beat reporter at the Washington Post, to an overnight sensation as the leader of the New Journalism movement, Tom Wolfe was at the forefront of reshaping how American stories are told. Tom recognized the importance in overlooked micro-cultures and people, documenting everything from rural stock car drivers to hippies in Haight Ashbury to the Apollo Astronauts. Throughout his career, Tom fused a conservative upbringing in Virginia with a cultural antenna forged in Yale’s American Studies PhD program to write some of the most memorable and culturally impactful stories of the 20th century such as The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full. Tom’s ability to bridge cultural and class divides while tackling stories central to American Life was unique in fiction and non-fiction.

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Radical Wolfe Movie Reviews

Title: This Tom Wolfe deserves a better biographical film.

There are two Thomas Wolfe’s in American literature. The first is known best as the author of “You Can’t Go Home Again”, in my view the Great American novel. But this film is about the other Wolfe, known as Tom. The two were not related, that they had the same name was a coincidence. While Thomas wrote serious literary prose, Tom’s prose was less inhibited, partly because of his friendship with Hunter Thompson. On the other hand, Thomas’ life was an alcoholic mess while Tom was very buttoned down in his famous white suits. They both came from the south and had Ivy league educations and were influenced by James Joyce.

It is sad, to me, that this film did do justice to Tom or his writing. The writers of this film wanted to make Tom into a conservative writer such as William F Buckley, Jr. It is true that Tom was no liberal, but he was more of an impartial observer, and while he poked fun of liberals it was not malicious like many on the right. For instance when he wrote about drug culture in “The Electric Kool Aid AcidTest” he tried out LSD himself to understand it. Unlike this biography, he had a good sense of humor.

This biography had lots of interviews of people who knew Tom or his work and lots of film clips of Tom himself. But it had no life. Tom had a life and he deserved better.

a way with words

Greetings again from the darkness. There have been many great writers over the years, yet only a handful of these have become celebrities themselves … in contrast to celebrities who become “writers”. Tom Wolfe was one whose personality was as big (sometimes larger) than his books. Sporting the trademark white suits that had him labeled “a dandy”, making frequent talk show appearances and numerous public book readings and speeches, Wolfe achieved the celebrity status that evidently was important to him. Richard Dewey’s documentary is based on the “Vanity Fair” article written by Michael Lewis (“Moneyball”, “The Big Short”, “The Blind Side”), who also appears on screen here providing insight into Wolfe the writer and Wolfe the man.

Dewey presents a pretty basic chronological biography of this man whose mastery of word usage has led him to be recognized for introducing some familiar phrases into the language. These include: “the right stuff”, “good ol’ boy”, and “the Me decade”. Wolfe penned many bestsellers across multiple genres, as well as countless articles and essays with his observations and commentary on society and counterculture. Some of his most famous works are “The Right Stuff” (adapted into an exceptional 1983 film), “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (adapted into a regretful 1990 DePalma flop), and “A Man in Full”. It’s that latter 1998 novel that kicked off the high-profile literary feud between Wolfe and rival writers John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.

Wolfe’s background as a newspaper journalist certainly contributed to his long-standing commitment to research and details. Among those interviewed here and speaking to his expertise are Gay Talese, Christopher Buckley, Tom Junod, and the aforementioned Michael Lewis. Also included are numerous clips of Wolfe’s TV appearances, and even comments from his daughter, Alexandra. Talese in particular captures the essence of Wolfe when he describes him as (something along the lines of) an extremely polite man who transitions into a terrorist with a pen in hand. Not many can be described as an elegant gentleman AND with adjectives such as cynical, mean, outlandish, and contrarian. Tom Wolfe can … and has been.

As a writer, Wolfe turned his focus on Black Panthers, Leonard Bernstein, astronauts, New York City, Junior Johnson’s NASCAR, and Ken Kesey’s LSD hippie counterculture. Sure, he was often criticized for his use of exclamation points and ellipses (a habit we share), yet he was also behind “New Journalism”, aka literary journalism – making stories more interesting to read. He suffered through depression after a heart attack, but the man did things with words most of us can only dream of. Tom Wolfe passed away in 2018 at age 88, but his white suit lives on in images, and magical words live on through publications. For a man who adored adoration, he would likely be fine with that.

The film will debut in limited theaters beginning September 15, 2023.

Michael Lewis coming off like a deliberate obtuse ingenue. He is not.

Opening scene, i said to myself who is this numbskull in the seersucker suit who grew up in New Orleans and thinks it isn’t a literary town. Because he didn’t pay attention to authors names, like author of the Hardy Boys as a kid? And yet comes from old New Orleans money and elite east coast education, that takes as much pride in the finer points of art as they do about entertaining and making sure their kids marry well, conservative as their tastes may be.

Here’s another fun quote: i look at him as a role midel, but an imperfect role model’. But I don’t think anyone else took the chances that Tom Wolfe took, not just stylistically but morally. , as we scan to a black and white still of his sartorial choice of footware.

Michael Lewis thinks there was no sense of style in newspaper journalism before the 1960’s. This is just lazy writing for an audience who has largely abandoned the written word in print as a mode of creativity, communication, and craft, of vocation.

AH Liebling, Studs Terkel, Dorothy Parker, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, or the early Arm Forces work of Hunter S. Thompson Joan Didion, Molly Ivins or John McPhee. I could go on. Tom Wolfe is best known as a fashion plate who had a genius for explaining in detail one or another forces of contemporary culture to the more traditional culture mavens of the day. The Electric Acid Koolaid Test is well worth reading, but then you read Ken Kesey. Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers and I am Charlotte Simmons are bookends to a career that was prime and fashionable, but doesn’t age well, becomes what it attempts to skewer.

This documentary kind of has the same problem and its less than the sum off its parts, a glossary of tidbits and quotes. It’s lazy and boring.