Tuesday, August 30, 2016

All in the Documentary

Don't get me wrong.   I am a big fan of what Norman Lear has contributed to TV history.   Some of the best and most groundbreaking sitcoms of all time. Hilarious scripts.   The most expert casting ever.  Indeed, Norman Lear might be one of the most prolific creative minds ever to work on the tube.

Here's the problem.   He thinks so, too.  And, as a result, what could have been a captivating documentary on the man turns into an artificial treatment that left you wanting more of one direction and a lot less of...well...Norman himself.

I read his memoirs two years ago and came away with the same hybrid reaction.   When he talked about the craft of writing and TV producing, I was completely spellbound.   I wanted to know it all.   As soon as he quits the business to go into political activism, I was completely disengaged.   He was just one more mouth to hear.

Well, this new documentary is pretty much the same thing.   When Norman and the filmmakers are concentrating on All in the Family and Maude and Good Times and the Jeffersons, I'm in.   But, once they get past this period and let Norman prattle on his views which he totally expects are your views, I'm out.  

At the screening I attended, Norman did a Q and A after the film with one of the directors.   And, hell, I gave him a standing ovation because, for his creative work, that is well deserved.  But, even then in person, he started to kvetch about life and went out of his way to explain that he was indeed "just another version of me."

Um, no, you're not.   Frankly, I'm one of those people that think Norman Lear and the likes of him are basically here to entertain.   So many of them, however, think that this talent also gives them a right to shape our thought patterns and mold them into duplicates of their own.   I don't pay money to see and hear that.   I simply wanted to be enlightened and hopefully amused.   The ability to write a punch line does not automatically come with the right to climb onto a bully pulpit.   That, Mr. Lear, is reserved for somebody like Teddy Roosevelt and not you.

The other thing that struck me about this documentary was the sloppy way in which it was filmed.   There were color coding problems.   Some images were flip flopped to cover the fact that they did not have rights for certain footage.   When you see the clip where the Bunker staircase goes up to the right instead of the left, you will know what I mean.  I'm astounded that this film, in its mediocre state, actually played at the Sundance Film Festival.

If you're a fan of TV history and the sitcom's place in it, definitely see this movie.   But, you will be disappointed about two-thirds of the way in.   Because, as the saying goes, more could have been more...and less could have been a lot less.

LEN'S RATING:  Two-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Chopped kale salad with bacon, Asiago cheese, and a balsamic dressing.

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