A film by Fred Barney Taylor
2017, 91 minutes
No. 229

Fred Barney Taylor’s Lethem presents a unique portrait of the life and work of Jonathan Lethem, the bestselling author of nine novels, including The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, and a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant,” through an assemblage of interviews with family members, friends, and the author himself. 

Interview subjects range from Lethem’s oldest friend, Michael Seidenberg, a bookseller whose bookshops were stocked with books that he would rather not sell; his younger brother Blake, a legendary graffiti writer; his father, Richard Brown Lethem, a well known painter; and his good friend Hampton Fancher, the screenwriter of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.

Although known as a Brooklyn writer, he actually wrote about his beloved borough from afar. He wrote his first four novels while living in Berkeley and Oakland, he wrote Fortress while living in Toronto. He describes building a street map of Brooklyn in his head and imaginatively entering his home turf every day to write his novels. Using both the urban landscapes of New York and images of the American road from Maine to California as visual correlatives for Lethem’s books, the film suggests the array of cultural influences that inform the author’s life and work.