What We’re Watching – 5/11/11
The Iceman Interviews (2003)
I read and watch so much stuff about serial killers I can objectively say it might be getting a bit creepy. The Iceman Interviews is a collection of three HBO documentaries featuring mob hitman/psychopath/devoted father Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski. The first two documentaries, The Iceman Tapes – Converstations with a Killer and The Iceman – Secrets of a Mafia Hitman, aren’t particularly good. While both have quite interesting interviews with Kuklinski, both tend to favour sensationalised editing and “reenactments” instead of analysing The Iceman himself. The final documentary, The Iceman and the Psychiatrist, filmed just four years before Kuklinski’s death, is the high point of the three. The interview with forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz concentrates less on Kuklinski’s violent mob crimes, and focuses on his abusive childhood and his current psychological state. Kuklinski himself is a pretty interesting person to watch. He first appears as quite an affable person, but as his grim past is revealed, his sunny disposition makes for uncomfortable viewing. The most interesting part that the documentary highlights is the revelation that it wasn’t the mob that transformed Kuklinski into a killer; it was sadly something that was inevitable. His paranoia and lack of remorse from an early age seems to underline that he would have become a serial killer regardless of his occupation; he just wouldn’t have been paid for it. So you can say what you want about him, but joining the mob was a pretty smart decision; it’s like knowing that you want burgers all the time and then getting a job at McDonald’s.
There are currently two Iceman biopics in production. The first sounds like it could be pretty good, with a talented ensemble cast including Michael Shannon, James Franco and Benicio Del Toro. The other film is currently languishing in development hell after the writer had issues with the casting of Channing Tatum as the lead. I wonder why?
The Greatest (1977)
I first saw The Greatest when I was quite young and thought it was fantastic, and in a way I still do now. The Greatest is biographical film charting the career of Muhammad Ali. It begins with Ali’s gold medal win in the 1960 Olympics and continues through his struggles against the draft during the Vietnam war, leading ultimately to 1974 and one of the most historic boxing events ever—The Rumble in the Jungle. What makes the film really stand out is the casting of the real Ali in the central role; it’s an egotistical and unnecessary choice, but who else could get away with it? There’s no real weight to the narrative; it’s basically just Ali swanning around being witty and awesome. I didn’t expect or want anything else really. The film’s real crime is that its script doesn’t carry the brevity, poetry or style of one Ali interview; even simply for entertainment’s sake, you’ll still have more fun watching an Ali documentary than this film.
Rocky was released about six months prior to The Greatest, and in a lot of ways I think sealed its fate. Rocky’s multi-Oscar winning tale of the trails and tribulations of boxing’s most famous underdog really underlines the problem with watching The Greatest: there’s no need to root for Ali. The film is just a vanity project; every time we see him onscreen we’re reminded of his success and triumphs. There’s nothing to really care about, and there are so many in-depth and captivating Ali documentaries, there’s nothing to learn from it either. It has no real reason to exist. Criticism aside, The Greatest is a personal guilty pleasure and one that’s not going to go away anytime soon. I think I just generally like the audacity of Ali starring in a film about himself, where he can relive personal achievements and have Ernest Borgnine play his coach; everybody in the world would make this type of movie about themselves if they could, I just don’t think many would get away with it.
I pretty much enjoyed all the films listed, so if anyone’s got recommendations of similar films, especially if you know of any other biopics where the central characters have been played by themselves, please leave a comment or fire me an email.