ROADRUNNER STOPS AND STARTS
Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world
you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small.
Whether it's the bird of the southwest or the classic Warner Bros. cartoon, a roadrunner flits, zigzags and stops mainly to eat. Even deadly predators, e.g., a rattlesnake, become tasty meals.
Anthony Bourdain would've loved that delectable, rattlesnake. It along with the cobra and other reptiles were likely on his bucket list. The former chef turned writer, then television personality travelling the world to introduce exotic food to his viewers, is described in the documentary, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021) by a friend as fearless.
His early years began, as he confesses, living among a loving family which he'd later take for granted. Unwilling to be a responsible child, he took that enthusiasm for walking the line into his teenage years when he began experimenting with drugs. Meantime, after a stint as a dishwasher (locals, he began working in a Provincetown, MA restaurant, The Flagship), the soon-to-be chef transitioned years later to master chef at Les Halles, an acclaimed eatery in Manhattan. Once Bourdain established his reputation, he wrote the bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, where he exposed some of the best kept secrets from behind the scenes of restaurant life and food preparation.
When he agreed to do a food adventure television show, A Cook's Tour, No Reservations, among others, his popularity sky-rocketed. Travelling the world to some of the most exotic and dangerous (The Congo, Beirut, etc.) places, eating anything served, he became a household name. There was a cost. His marriages suffered because of his constant travel, his flight from the mendacity of day-to-to routine, and his never-ending search for the ineffable meaning of life.
The latter third of the movie gives concrete reasons for his suicide, despite some questions left unanswered (why the wordsmith didn't leave a note). Many of the participants either refuse to discuss that aspect of Bourdain's death or can't get past their tears. All agree the signs were there.
Oscar-winning documentarian and Director Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) assembles some of Bourdain's closest friends, fellow chef Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin), one of his ex-wives (his second, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, with whom he had a daughter), and co-workers. But its the remarkable revelation that the Neville inserted Bourdain's voice using A.I. (artificial intelligence, e.g., computer simulation) which confounds this critic. Nothing or no one in the film makes this clear (Brito, CBS News, July 16, 2021).
Controversy aside, the documentary as a film focuses more on Bourdain the man, his travels, then on his craft as a chef or the variety of cuisine he sampled. For it's the rush of a new adventure he became addicted to (a former cocaine and heroin addict who never quit smoking) along with other hobbies he'd try then dismiss, always achieving stature (such as a blue belt in jiu jitsu) before moving on to another. A manic pattern that often left him spent and depressed, including his personal relationships.
Frenetic clips, incessant stationary stills of Bourdain coupled with more entertaining personal movie footage and scenes from his shows comprise much of the film. The interviews add depth to the story, each contributor has his/her own unique personality, viewpoint, but the moments showing the father with his daughter break your heart.
His complexity--hippie, humanitarian, perfectionist, manic/depressive, rebel, raconteur, politico, these roles fueled his raison d'etre. A shy man thrust into the public eye by his talents; he never felt comfortable with the attention off-camera. Either way, his choices to run, search for meaning via his travels, examine what's often neglected in travel shows--the politics, the underbelly that tourists often ignore, as well as his admiration for the people he meets left an indelible mark on all those who knew him.
As with the man, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is tangled, complex. The documentary may leave you wanting more answers. Bourdain would've empathized.
Unrated. Warning: a few scenes involve killing animals and consumption of internal organs. Expletives abound; footage of the bombing of Beirut, along with smoking, and discussions about drug use.
Now showing at select theaters. Locals the film is available at the Cape Cinema (Dennis) and Wellfleet Cinemas.
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com
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