Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself


Perhaps it was disingenuous for George Plimpton to insist for so long that he was above all else an “am-uh-ter.” Yes, this tweedy beanpole would lark off from his day job—only editing The Paris Review, the world-champion lit mag, for almost 50 years—so that he could have a go at goaltending for the Boston Bruins, or bomb as a stand-up comic, or pitch to Mickey Mantle. Was this “participatory journalism,” as he put it, or maybe proto-performance-art media manipulation—there were those TV specials and, later, endorsement deals that would make Orson Welles blush—or just some kind of make-a-wish dilettantism? Crammed with lit-world walk-ons and delicious anecdotes, the agreeable new doc Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself posits that he was all this and more. Directors Tom Bean and Luke Poling never shy away from the possibility that Plimpton at times was more a personality than a serious writer, and some of the master-novelist talking heads they’ve assembled—James Salter, Peter Matthiesen—imply Plimpton was right not to aspire to their company. But the doc also treats us to affecting, insightful passages from Paper Lion, his great account of training as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions, confirming that, often enough, the work was as substantial as his efforts as an athlete were minor. Plimpton himself, recorded in interviews and at lecterns, narrates much of the doc, retelling his best tales. A favorite: the time on a fishing boat he asked Hemingway what the white birds that showed up in so often in the novelist’s sex scenes were meant to symbolize. Hemingway, infuriated, shouted back, “So you think you can do better!”