Wednesday, June 5, 2013

ÉVOCATEUR: Kramer/Miller/Newberger's film offers Morton Downey Jr. in all his gory

It was supposedly 1775 when the words "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" were first uttered (by Samuel Johnson, according to Boswell), but they came to my mind while watching the documentary horror story of Morton Downey, Jr. titled ÉVOCATEUR: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie and brought to ugly, noisy life by a trio of filmmakers who appear to work together well and fairly often. Shown below, from left to right, are Seth Kramer, Jeremy Newberger and Daniel A. Miller, and if TrustMovies is not jumping up and down in praise of their work, it is most likely because they have brought their subject to life in all his ugly, gory glory so well that, periodically, I wanted to go running from the theater as I screamed obscenities back at the screen from which Downey's own were so forcefully coming forth.

Yes, Downey Jr. was a showman first and last, but he was also mostly an asshole, if this movie is to be believed (and the film probably sugar-coats the guy to some degree). I am certain that his daughter, whom we see in the documentary, loved him dearly (as mine loves me), so I apologize to her right off the bat. And yes, Downey Jr. (below, showing us how patriotic he is) tapped into a part of America that we had not seen so much of back then (the 1980s), but that we're seeing and hearing all too often these days. So, yes, Downey Jr. was "ahead of his time." I'm sure the Egyptians of Moses' day would have said the same about Adolf Hitler.

Enough larking around: the movie takes us back a couple of generations to our hero's father, Morton Downey, Sr., and offers up a pretty good case that Junior could never get out of daddy's shadow. We see some terrific archival footage of the family, and of Junior's early career as a would-be singer (I didn't think he sounded at all bad) and then from his days as a liberal who supported (and in fact was a friend of) Teddy Kennedy -- before turning into a (maybe pseudo, maybe not) raging right-wing nut case.

The movie offers us some footage said to be new to the public, showing the sociopath behind the scenes and at his worst, along with some clever animation revealing what you might call the way Junior hoped to have been seen (especially by teen-age girls) and how he appeared to the "suits" who tried to control him. The three directors have compiled all this in a fast-moving manner (Kramer did the editing, Miller the writing and Newberger the art direction) so that you certainly will not be bored and should remain entertained through the final credits.

We hear from the usual (and a few unusual) talking heads -- everyone from Gloria Allred, Alan Dershowitz and Sally Jesse Raphael (above) to Herman (I Wan't to Be President!) Cain, below left, with Curtis (the mouth) Sliwa, and especially Steven Pagones, the white assistant district attorney accused in 1988 of raping black teenager Tawana Brawley.

The whole nasty mess of the Brawley/Al Sharpton debacle is paraded before us once again. Well, maybe this will make some of our younger set find out more about that worthless non-event and why many of us still see Mr. Sharpton, shown below with Downey in those tiresome days, as the epitome of dishonest, self-congratula-tory sleaze. (And why he and Junior make such a perfect couple.)

Junior himself tried, late in his fading career, what looked suspiciously like a Tawana "move" to little avail. His brief but noisy career paved the way for fake men like Limbaugh, Beck and their ilk -- none of whom can hold a candle to the provocations Downey delivered (or the style in which he delivered them). I'd love to be able to say that we shall not see his like again. But we won't be that lucky. It's just a matter of time before hatred, greed and performance art mingle in the right vessel -- and another champion asshole appears to lead our generally insensate populace a step closer to the abyss.

Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie -- from Magnolia Pictures and running 90 minutes --opens this Friday, June 7, in Manhattan at the Quad Cinema, in L.A at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas and elsewhere, too. To view all currently scheduled playdates and theaters, click here.

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