Who is Anthony Bourdain? Prior to a few weeks ago, I really had no idea. Despite not watching it, I knew he was a chef who traveled and ate foods from all over the world on a popular TV show called Parts Unknown, and I knew he had committed suicide. And that’s where my knowledge of this legendary artist ended.
Enter Academy Award-winner Morgan Neville’s documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. It’s a lengthy title for a suitably lengthy film. Yet, it does not really feel very long at all. It opens as Bourdain is working on his future best-selling book Kitchen Confidential and quickly blasts into orbit as he starts traveling the world and becoming an international celebrity. It charts the highs and lows of his personal life, his addictive personality, his profane give-no-fucks attitude and the demons he was facing internally. Talking head interviews with family, close friends and his production team are peppered throughout, along with narration from the man himself and a treasure trove of candid and behind-the-scenes footage.
So needless to say, I am very aware of who Anthony Bourdain is now – or Tony as his friends called him.
The Way I See It centres on Pete Souza, the former White House chief photographer for President Ronald Reagan and President Barack Obama, and the images he took during their presidencies. While the film does spend some time on Reagan, it mainly chronicles the time Souza spent with Obama – using some of his public speaking talks to bridge the gap between important events alongside his pointed commentary on President Donald Trump.
My go-to buzz word when describing documentaries is “fascinating”, no matter the subject or context. The Way I See It certainly fits that fascinating mold, but the content within it seems substantially important enough that calling it fascinating is just not enough. It digs in deep past other surface level documentaries of its ilk and is captivating for the entirety of its running time. Watching Souza in action is what I imagine it would be like watching a painter creating Renaissance master works. He knows just how to compose the perfect shot and just when to take it. And his access to such intimate and candid moments of Obama, his family and his staff is simply mind-blowing. I had seen some of Souza’s photos in passing before, but seeing them being celebrated here as documented history is a moving experience all in itself.
It’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, but even crazier if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening with the Oscars. The wording is still a bit confusing, but The Academy announced this week that they will be handing out the awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Live Action Short, during the commercial breaks and editing together a piece to show the winners and their speeches sometime later in the ceremony.
Oh, and they are trying to hold all winners to 90 seconds for their speeches – and this includes the time it gets them to stand up, be congratulated by their loved ones and peers sitting around them, and sprint to the podium. The guys might be able to pull this off in their dress shoes, but what about the women? Is The Academy encouraging them to wear sneakers and not have trains on their dresses? Naturally everyone is furious. Petitions are being signed. Celebrities and industry people alike are speaking out and protesting the Academy’s decisions. Twitter is on fire with rage. But it’s just another day as we stumble towards the ceremony on February 24.
And with that, here’s a few words on the Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films I missed posting about last week.
Well the cat’s out of the bag — Michael Moore’s secret documentary Where To Invade Next premiered on Thursday night at TIFF and it was nothing like anyone expected. Instead of skewering the American government and their foreign policies abroad, Moore decided to travel various European countries and discuss social/economic improvements they made that could help improve the quality of life in the US. The only footage on US soil is archived news and cell phone videos.
What he discovers abroad is initially ludicrous in how wildly different it is from American (and by proxy Canadian) life. 8-week vacations in Italy. Amazing school lunch programs in France. Free college education in Slovenia. Some of the things he discovers are downright mind-boggling. Of course, he avoids all of the social problems each of those countries have in favour of cherry-picking the best elements to contrast to American life, but that is besides the point. Instead of grabbing American government by the throat, Moore calmly and carefully lays out the ways life can be improved. It is a very different kind of movie for him, and I think that’s why it resonates so well. It provokes discourse in the best possible way, and is moving, hilarious and downright disturbing all at the same time. This is easily his best work since Bowling for Columbine, and one that does not feel like it is entirely agenda driven.
If I hold anything against it, it is that it feels a bit sluggish at 2 hours (but this could also have been due to the delayed and increasingly late time I watched it), and I’m not entirely sure his culminating thesis is sound. He presents a lot of information, and by the time the film comes to an end, it does not feel all that conclusive. Almost as if something is missing.
But that said — Moore is tired, and he wants to continue campaigning for change. But he does not want to be the only one. And Where To Invade Next may just be his last attempt at trying. Hopefully it helps.
If you can score tickets (or want to test your luck in the rush line), the film is playing at the Ryerson on Friday September 18 at 12pm and Sunday September 20 at 6pm.