Fred Rogers doc a beau­ti­ful day in the neigh­bor­hood

The Oakdale Leader - - PERSPECTIVE - By JAKE COYLE AP Film Writer

So ac­cus­tomed are we to the down­fall and dis­grace of men that a mar­velous sense of its ab­sence pro­pels the rich and glow­ing doc­u­men­tary “Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor?” Fifty years af­ter he made his pub­lic tele­vi­sion de­but, Fred Rogers re­mains aloft: a pure and gen­tle soul never be­fallen by scan­dal, a still-shin­ing bea­con of kind­ness with­out the near req­ui­site dark shadow.

“Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor?” — as snug as a worn sweater — is ha­giog­ra­phy. But it’s de­served ha­giog­ra­phy. And thank the lord it’s not an ex­pose.

The film, di­rected by Mor­gan Neville, uses be­hind-thescenes footage from “Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood,” archival video of Rogers and co­pi­ous talking-head in­ter­views with his col­lab­o­ra­tors and fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing his wife, Joanne, and their two sons. It’s an af­fect­ing win­dow into what re­mains very pos­si­bly the most benev­o­lent broad­cast ever reg­u­larly beamed out on the small screen.

As unique as “Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood” was in its own TV era, Rogers would seem down­right ex­trater­res­trial on to­day’s ca­ble menu. Not long af­ter Neville plays a snip­pet of Fox News where pun­dits be­moan Rogers for cod­dling a gen­er­a­tion by teach­ing them that ev­ery­one is spe­cial, a for­mer worker on “Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood” won­ders if there’s room to­day “for a nice per­son on TV.”

Call­ing forth Rogers to­day — and that plain, ten­der and dis­arm­ingly straight­for­ward voice — is both a re­minder of the mam­moth loss (he died in 2003) and how sadly bereft we are of any­thing like him. Many of the bat­tles Rogers was fight­ing — against the “ever-ready mold­ers” of chil­dren, against mass en­ter­tain­ment made with­out com­pas­sion — are sim­ply no longer waged.

What would Rogers — whose ire was raised by Superman movies that made kids think they could fly — make of an en­ter­tain­ment land­scape where su­per­hero block­busters are billed as fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment? Rogers spoke of the “holy ground” be­tween a young viewer and the TV screen. To­day, it’s mostly just a bat­tle ground.

But where, on Earth, did he come from? In the doc­u­men­tary, Rogers does some­times smack of some­thing alien, most of all when Neville re­lates how Rogers claimed he weighed 143 pounds every day of his adult life. The num­bers, he felt, cor­re­sponded with the let­ters in “I love you.”

Photo Con­trib­uted

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