Be­ing Evel

BE­ING EVEL, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

What is a hero? The ques­tion lurks at the heart of this part-wor­ship­ful, part-warts-and-all doc­u­men­tary about one of the great self-pro­mot­ers of Amer­ica’s 20th cen­tury. Look­ing back from our era when celebrity it­self can be the ba­sis of celebrity, Evel Knievel stands out as a man who made his mark the hard way. Whether or not his death-de­fy­ing mo­tor­cy­cle stunts add up to hero­ism is a ques­tion for philoso­phers to pon­der, but they earned him fame and for­tune as the public flocked to see if he would back up his brag­gado­cio, or crash in a wel­ter of bro­ken bones, or worse. “No­body wants to see me die,” Knievel muses, “but they don’t want to miss it if I do.”

Af­ter open­ing with a Johnny Car­son ap­pear­ance at the height of his sub­ject’s fame, di­rec­tor Daniel Junge (Sav­ing Face) picks up the saga of Bobby Knievel from his Mon­tana ori­gins, where he was a tough kid who spent some time in lo­cal jails. That’s where he got his nick­name. A cop, sur­vey­ing the mugs be­hind bars one night, cracked, “Well look who we got here — Aw­ful Knofel and Evil Knievel.”

Junge has bro­ken open a spec­tac­u­lar piñata of vintage Knievel footage, in­clud­ing tri­umphs and dis­as­ters, and but­tressed it with talk­ing heads that range from Jack­ass TV star Johnny Knoxville and ac­tor Ge­orge Hamil­ton (both of whom were pro­duc­ers on the film) to Knievel’s old home­boys and pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­ates, and a cou­ple of wives. Hamil­ton re­calls a drunken Knievel hold­ing a gun to his head in a scuzzy mo­tel room and de­mand­ing that he read aloud the en­tire screen­play of the 1971 biopic in which Hamil­ton was to play Knievel.

Knievel rock­eted to star­dom by cre­at­ing a mythic fig­ure as the Viet­nam War and Water­gate were sap­ping the na­tion’s morale. But his swag­ger and ego, fu­eled by booze and drugs and the ap­par­ently un­lim­ited avail­abil­ity of will­ing women, made him an un­re­li­able friend. Many of his old pals re­mem­ber him fondly, but some walked away as the tra­jec­tory of his ca­reer took him to gid­dier and some­times nas­tier heights. The most se­ri­ous fallingout was with his friend and pro­moter, Sheldon Saltman, who wrote a book about Knievel, al­legedly with his sub­ject’s ap­proval. But when Knievel read it in print, he was in­censed, and at­tacked the pro­moter with a base­ball bat.

That was the be­gin­ning of the end, and the end came in free-fall. Knievel was sen­tenced to jail, he lost lu­cra­tive en­dorse­ments and li­cens­ing con­tracts, his mar­riage dis­solved, and his life wound up in tat­ters.

The peak of this movie comes with Knievel’s no­to­ri­ous at­tempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a steam-pow­ered rocket de­vice. The event de­gen­er­ated into what one par­tic­i­pant re­mem­bers as “the evil twin of Wood­stock.”

Af­ter this, the movie out-jumps its mo­men­tum and crashes painfully, limp­ing to­ward the fin­ish amid a dy­ing fall of pan­e­gyrics from con­tem­po­rary ex­treme sports stars who re­mem­ber Evel Knievel as the fa­ther of their cul­ture. — Jonathan Richards

High times: Evel Knievel

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.