“Radical Wolfe”


Rotten Tomatoes (4/5), Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)

The impact that words carry can be tremendous, sometimes powerful enough to change everyday speech, the nature of literature and even an entire culture. And, in many cases, those shifts can be traced back to the musings of gifted, insightful individuals. That’s where author Tom Wolfe (1930-2018) enters, stage left, as seen in this new documentary from director Richard Dewey, based on a Vanity Fair article by author Michael Lewis. Wolfe, a onetime newspaper reporter, made his mark beginning in the 1960s with an Esquire magazine article about southern California’s hot rod and custom car culture that turned conventional journalism on its ear. Almost overnight, he became a New York and national media sensation, introducing what he called “the new journalism,” a practice of writing and reporting that called for drawing upon all of the literary tools available to authors of all stripes in the penning of nonfiction works, a move aimed at eliminating much of what he saw as the tiresome tedium that had come to characterize most of such pieces. Before long, over the next several decades, he established a reputation for cutting-edge writing through various magazine articles and such books as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, The Right Stuff and From Bauhaus to Our House. He subsequently went on to release novels like The Bonfire of the Vanities and Man in Full. And several of these titles were even adapted as motion pictures, clips from which are liberally featured in this film biography. In addition to his prolific bibliography, Wolfe also distinguished himself as a character unto himself, a transplanted polite Southern gentleman and flamboyant sartorial dandy who could cut people to the quick with the stroke of his pen and wasn’t afraid of tackling controversial subjects that many of his contemporaries would never touch. His story is told in an admittedly somewhat conventional but exceedingly well-defined, economical, briskly paced manner, featuring interviews with those who knew him and admirers who savor his work, as well as archive footage of the author himself from many well-known media vehicles of his time. “Radical Wolfe” is an insightful and entertaining celebration of the writer’s life and work without ever gushing and never shying away from portraying him warts and all. Wolfe took New York literary society and the country by storm with his singular way with words, the kind of unabashed, articulate, inventive scribe we could use more of these days.