Reviews Of The Next Space Race, Marilyn In Manhattan, Gore Vidal: The United States Of Amnesia, Mortified Nation, And Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 2/19/15
I recently watched five of the oddest documentaries I have ever see, streaming them on Netflix. They were The Next Space Race, Marilyn In Manhattan, Gore Vidal: The United States Of Amnesia, Mortified Nation, and Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie.
The first film I watched was an oddity, titled The Next Space Race, that was only 22 minutes in length, and played more like an old time auditorium film shown in a Junior High School during recess. It was apparently made my Bloomberg TV- the media wing of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and so unprofessionally made that I had to actually Google about to find any actual information on the film’s making. This included who the host and narrator of the film was- an attractive and affable enough young woman named Rachel Crane.
The 2014 film could have been an infomercial, for Crane never pushes the boundaries and asks real questions of any depth. It follows the next space race of commercial interests taking over the stairway to the stars that previously had been the preserve of governments alone. There were some inaccuracies in terms of the history of manned space flight, as well as a few questionable scientific claims. And the sense was that this is a film best suited for cable television networks who need to provide their weekly quota of ‘educational’ content.
Clichés abound, and we get no real insight into the three competing spacecrafts and companies in this race, save for this: SpaceX has a ship called Dragon, and can take 7 people into space with enough room in its capsule for 2 years worth of provisions; Boeing’s craft is the CST-100, and has the most ex-NASA folks on the payroll, and its ship can hold 5 folks, and eventually 7, but its weldless design may be strongest; and the Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser can also hold 7, but is not a capsule, but more like a mini-space shuttle, or SUV for space.
Because of its infomercial like character, the film and hostess never
questions the safety and efficacy of the corporate model of putting things in
space, where profit, ultimately, will have to trump safety. Given the record of
corporate screwups when merely contracted by governments to build such
equipment, when left to their own devices, will companies care even less?
Likely, but that is the sort of journalism that this fluff piece doesn’t even
raise, much less explicitly address.
On the plus side, the ‘doc’ is very short, it is professionally well
done, from a technical standpoint, if not a journalistic one, and the hostess is
much more engaging than many similar persons employed in such series. But, a
pretty face cannot hide a hollow soul.
All in all, a film well worth skipping.
But, in comparison to another documentary from 2013, called Mortified Nation, directed by Michael Mayer, which clocks in at 83 minutes in length, the film on Gore Vidal is a masterpiece in every way. Apparently, there are people so desperate for a second of micro-fame that they are willing to shame themselves at an open mic that is broadcast on cable television, and the subject of their ‘fame’ is that they are reading excerpts from their old childhood and teen diaries.
Having spent decades in the arts, and gone to a few thousand spoken word events myself, I have been prepared for the gesticulations of doggerelists for many years, but this is something different: not even bad stand up comedy, and not even bad fiction being read.
No, this is crap spewed either from real diaries, or claims so outrageous
that they have to be made up ‘entries’ designed to allow the people that
read them to ‘get noticed’ by the producers of the open mic, tv show, and
film. The show is called Mortified, and that any fool would waste time or money
to attend such a show is amazing, for just when one thinks the lowest common
denominator of America cannot get any lower, it limos right under expectations.
And, as if the lame and made up faux diary entries are not bad enough in their
generic repetition, we get to see photos of people at their teenaged worst. This
works for maybe the first two or, to be kind, maybe three people who humiliate
and prostitute themselves. By the time you get past that yawns are starting to
infect one’s being, as if an alien presence designed to destroy one’s
If cynical ego-based consumerism is your thing, though, then Mortified Nation is not your cup of Mort, and you might prefer Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, released in 2012,clocking in at 90 minutes long, and detailing the life and meteoric rise and fall of Right Wing talk show host Morton Downey, Jr’s political show in the late 1980s.
I was in early youth when Downey’s show hit, and within a month of it’s 1987 debut, he was one of the biggest names on television, his shows eclipsing the ratings of daytime talk titans Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue. Even as his show spawned the 1990s rise of trash television pioneered by Winfrey. Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, Jerry Springer, Maury Povich and their ilk would have been nothing without Downey, whose own image followed on the heels of 1960s Right Wing icon, Joe Pyne.
The film follows Downey’s life as the son of his famed Irish tenor father, Morton Downey, Sr., whom he loathed, Jr’s own aborted singing career, his homo-erotic lifestyle in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as his show’s meteoric rise, and quick downfall, in 1989, less than two years on the air, when a series of violent events spawned by his show, and his own hoaxed attack on himself via supposed Neo-Nazis (an ironic ripoff of the Tawana Brawley rape hoax, which Downey lambasted regularly), brought an end to his domain.
The show was aired from WOR, Channel 9, in Secaucus, New Jersey, and was produced by an Emmy Award winning tv interviewer himself, Bill Boggs (whose show was nothing like Downey’s), and the show had more in common with professional wrestling than discourse. After the cancellation, done (according to a Downey friend) by Downey to gain sympathy from his girlfriend (later, wife) so she wouldn’t leave him, Downey floundered, and later died slowly of lung cancer in 2001, just months before 9/11.
Short shrift is made of Downey’s dying crusade against Big Tobacco, and
too much time is devoted to Downey’s sexual antics, and the legions of leering
and adoringly sadistic fans of his who grew up to become- nebbishes, such as the
film’s three producers and directors: Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and
Jeremy Newberger. Talking heads, in the film, include noted Guardian Angels
fraud Curtis Sliwa, political commentator Pat Buchanan, lawyers Gloria Allred
and Alan Dershowitz, comedian Chris Elliott, and talk show host Richard Bey- all
people who have dubious cultural pedigrees. Downey, himself, was a fraud, in
that he wasn’t even a Junior, as his real first name was Sean, while his
father’s was John!
In summation, these odd films are not worth anyone’s time, but, if one had some time to kill, while needing, say, a high colonic, then Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie is the way to go. Barring such constipation, however, choose sleep.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Salon website.]
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