The Virgil Films March 26, 2019 DVD release of the 2019 documentary "I Am Richard Pryor" provides the latest proof that this distributor is the Rodney Dangerfield of film companies in that it don't get no respect, A review of the similar (and equally good) Virgil documentary "I Am Paul Walker" and a post on the highly entertaining "Outatime,” which documents the restoration of the "The Back to the Future" DeLorean, illustrate the awesomeness of the pop-culture documentary section of the broad Virgil catalog.
The following YouTube clip of a "Pryor" trailer provides a strong sense of the candidness of the titular comedian and of the numerous talking heads who participate in the film, The entire documentary providing the unvarnished truth is refreshing.
Opening scenes in "Pryor" of an early stand-up performance of Pryor for a white audience establish the contrasts in the life of this man that make his life so interesting. A recent assertion of a sexual history with Marlon Brando shows that our subject still can make headlines. (Yes, I have made several jokes along the lines of Brando making Pryor an offer that he cannot refuse the past few days; the ones involving the anatomy of a horse are inappropriate for this forum.)
The aforementioned stand-up routine revolves around Pryor discussing growing up in a black family living in a Jewish building in an Italian neighborhood. Folks who are familiar with the Pryor film "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" (which "Pryor" discusses) knows that the truth is that Pryor grew up in the Peoria brothel that his grandmother owned and in which his mother was one of the working girls; his father was a pimp. A Pryor joke in which he discusses his early interaction with white men consisting of greeting customers of his mother shows that truth is funnier than fiction,
The larger theme is the need of Pryor to lighten up his material to appeal to white audiences of the '60s. "Pryor" properly points out that even those of us who are not particularly woke in 2019 both cannot relate to the real childhood of Pryor and do not want to hear the awful truth.
Comedy legend Lily Tomlin discusses her own personal and professional relationships with Pryor. Her story of accepting a '70s-era invitation by Pryor to go to a porn theater is one of the most amusing moments in the film and verifies that Tomlin is one of the coolest people ever.
Tomlin also is featured in a memorable clip of a skit that she and Pryor perform during a network special that she hosts. This is an edgy production in which Tomlin plays a diner owner and Pryor portrays a junkie/friend who is a regular and trusted customer. A poignant conclusion is one of many examples of the integrity of Pryor.
Tomlin additionally triggers a childhood memory of a controversy involving Pryor. He is appearing at a gay-rights benefit at the behest of Tomlin when he essentially tells the audience that they have it much easier than black people. He then essentially moons them and tells them to kiss his rich black ass.
A clip of a Pryor appearance on "The Dinah Shore Show" better illustrates the two worlds of Pryor, Folks familiar with Shore know that her image is as wholesome as they come. We see Pryor play with her regarding her discomfort with the word "nigger" and have the treat of Shore going along with the joke. The better message regarding this is the importance of understanding the context in which that word is used.
On-again-off-again wife Jennifer-Lee Pryor takes the lead regarding the dirty secrets and the not-so-secret scandals of Pryor. This includes his strong and varied sex life and better-known heavy drug use. The latter obviously includes his lighting himself on fire while freebasing; seeing Pryor tell a hilarious joke about that during a stand-up routine makes that witticism even more funny,
As mentioned throughout, the complex blend of Pryor shifting back-and-forth between playing it straight (no pun) intended to first pursue and then maintain stardom and remaining true to himself by allowing his real voice to be heard makes his story one well worth telling; Writer/director Jesse James Miller does this so well to the extent that he leaves the audience wanting much more.
The even larger truth is that most of the best comedy is born from pain. A popular theory is that every gay man has a "mother." Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld, and Ray Romano are three of many examples of the same being true of successful comedians,
The recent Virgil Films DVD release of the 2018 documentary "I Am Paul Walker" further solidifies the role of Virgil in the hearts and minds of pop culture fans. This love begins with the (recently reviewed) documentary "Outatime" about restoring the "Back to the Future" DeLorean and continues with Virgil titles that are subjects of upcoming posts. These include a modern indie film starring Ralph "Daniel San" Macchio and a documentary on "The Great Escape" featuring many people who participated in making that film.
The aptly titled "Walker" tells the tale of the personal and the professional lives of the titular star of the "The Fast and the Furious" franchise, The following YouTube clip of a trailer for this film shows how the folks who knew either or both incarnations of this guy who was equal parts stud and righteous dude always will mourn his death that occurred two months after he turned 40.
We first meet this All-American Midwest boy via home-movie footage of a childhood birthday party. This sets that stage for mother Cheryl Walker, father Paul Walker III, and siblings Cody and Ashlie to share stories of the man whom most of us only know through his television and film work. This guy always smiling for the camera, looking cute in his younger days, and being muy caliente even during puberty helps explain his decades of extraordinary success regarding auditions.
We also hear from two childhood friends who remained close to Walker until the end of his life. The talking heads who share memories from the professional side include a couple of directors, a manager, and "Fast" co-star Tyrese Gibson. A clip from a "Fast" movie showed that the stars were not acting regarding their on-screen relationship.
Everything indicated that Walker had a good heart and would give you the shirt off his back or the expensive racing car off his driveway so long as you exhibited what once was common courtesy. Learning that this guy best known for a film franchise that catered to teen boys also had a strong intellect and desire to use his star power for good, rather than for evil, fully ensured his place in the top two choices in the "or kill" game.
Hearing about the hair-trigger temper of Walker reflected his tough-guy heritage that included a paternal grandfather who boxed professionally and a father who was a Vietnam combat veteran. Arguably the most funny story in "Walker" began with our subject holding the door open for a man leaving a store with an armful of merchandise. That guy saying "Thanks, Bitch" earned him an epic beat-down.
We also learn that the similarities between Walker and fellow macho-man Steve McQueen extended beyond their ruggedness. Both men remained very handsome as they aged and had addict-level needs for speed. These attributes and the particular affinity for race cars earned Walker a comparison to James Dean.
The Dean parallel also extended to the death of both men while driving. The shared circumstances of the death of Walker within minutes of leaving a charity event was particularly shocking. One can only hope for the sake of St. Peter that that doorman of Heaven did not give Walker any grief on his arrival.
The bigger picture is that many of us to whom the "Fast" movies did not appeal got the treat of learning about one of the good guys in Hollywood who remained comically laid-back and was a contender for Father of the Year even after becoming Hollywood royalty.