The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

As a par­ent, you have to worry about your kids’ role mod­els. The con­tem­po­rary batch for my chil­dren has me par­tic­u­larly wor­ried. There are pop stars who think a sin­gle en­ten­dre is never enough and celebri­ties who build their fame on sex tapes and self­ies and by em­brac­ing their ig­no­rance.

In sport there are NRL stars fas­ci­nated by dogs, crick­eters who don’t re­alise they’re play­ing a team sport and AFL play­ers who want to move back in with their par­ents.

In my day, my role mod­els were rather straight up and down: Den­nis Lillee, Jeff Thom­son and Evel Knievel. The ap­peal of the de­mon fast bowlers was ob­vi­ous. Knievel jumped over buses on mo­tor­bikes and over snake-in­fested canyons in rock­ets. What could be tougher or cooler?

The doc­u­men­tary Be­ing Evel (M, Mad­man, 96min, $29.99), shows not much was tougher but plenty could be cooler. Robert Craig Knievel was a bad man: a con man, an adul­terer and vi­o­lent to boot. But a kid in the 1970s was pro­tected from the re­al­ity: the Evel we knew was all im­age and achieve­ment.

Di­rec­tor Daniel Junge does a great job show­ing why Knievel was al­lur­ing, but doesn’t shy away from the dark side.

Knievel grew up as a young crook in Butte, Mon­tana, brought up by his grand­par­ents af­ter his par­ents split up and left. His rise from the pits re­mains ex­tra­or­di­nary — as a bril­liant in­sur­ance sales­man, he lucked into stun­trid­ing while try­ing to spruik Honda mo­tor­cy­cles — and it is zip­pily chron­i­cled with co­pi­ous pic­tures, clips and talk­ing heads.

It is a fas­ci­nat­ing warts-and-all story, with many of Knievel’s con­tem­po­raries laugh­ing as well as shak­ing their heads at his early ex­ploits and his drive to in­cred­i­ble no­to­ri­ety and wealth, be­fore his sharp, calami­tous fall.

It was easy to fall for his span­gled out­fit that evoked Lib­er­ace and Elvis Pres­ley, com­bined with his tough talk and ac­tions. And re­vis­it­ing his bone-crunch­ing crashes at Cae­sar’s Palace in Las Ve­gas in 1967 and at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium in Lon­don in 1975 is a re­minder of why he was so easy to ad­mire. As the ac­tor who first played him, Ge­orge Hamil­ton, notes, “Evel had a movie-star qual­ity to him, no doubt about it. But not when he acted.”

His fall was bru­tal. Knievel’s mis­an­thropy had to emerge even­tu­ally, and it did as his me­dia ap­pear­ances be­came snakier and his bones creakier. When he took to an old pro­ducer with a base­ball bat, friends and busi­ness part­ners dumped him.

He made some apolo­gies be­fore his death in 2007 but it was too late. As his wife of 38 years, Linda, says in an achingly sad in­ter­view, “I just didn’t like him.”

We sort of re­alised Knievel was a show­man and a shys­ter when, well past his prime, he vis­ited Geelong in the late 1970s, and all he could do was a few wheel­ies.

He sold a good show, took our money and left town. As he did all his life.

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