Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Marco Duran (Retired) // March 25th, 2010
"I am a professional transvestite, so I can run about in heels and not fall over. Cause if a woman falls over wearing heels, that's embarrassing. But if a bloke falls over wearing heels, you have to kill yourself. It's the end of your life. I'm an action transvestite really, so it's running, jumping, climbing trees...putting on make-up when you're up there!"
That's Eddie Izzard, a comedian of extraordinary talent and humor. Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is, well, his story; his entire story, up to now anyways, from his birth in Yemen through his "Sexie" tour. Sarah Townsend (Diva 51) writer and former lover of Mr. Izzard, directs this biography in a very competent and thorough fashion. It does, however lead one to wonder what the purpose is for such a retrospective to be released now at a time when Eddie is just starting to hit his stride, not only as a stand up comic but also as an actor. Is this a marketing ploy for an upcoming movie or comedy tour? Or is this something deeper, a psychological release for the moviemaker or for the man himself? Also, and equally as important, does the history Sarah has with Eddie put her too close to her documentary's subject to be objective?
In this film there are two interwoven shorelines. The first begins in 2000 when Mr. Izzard was charged with fraud. People going to his shows were treated to jokes that were also told on his previous gigs. The BBC news show who broadcast this story claimed that people paying to see him were getting gypped since they could hear the same jokes if they bought Eddie's DVDs. He took this very much to heart and stopped doing live performances for 3 years. When he finally started his next tour, he began with a very, very rough draft of what his jokes were going to be. So much so, that he brought out with him onstage sheets of papers with jokes scrawled on them. Then he tried them out on each audience, refining the whole set all the way through till his final show in Wembley Stadium. This part of the film turned out to be very tedious with long stretches showing Eddie sitting in his dressing room, staring at papers and furiously scribbling joke ideas, trying to figure out his set before gigs. This section also has some of the worse audio since it was poorly recorded in the venues along the tour. The bad recordings along with his accent make most of these bits not easily understandable.
The second storyline is Eddie's actual life story. He was born in Yemen; at the age of 1 his family moved to Northern Ireland and lived there until he was five. Through this portion of the film we see some of his jokes about his childhood come to life (his father starting up a lawnmower -- "Run-un-un-un...No. Run-un-un-un...don't think so" -- as well as him playing clarinet in band) in Monty Python-esque cut-out animations. It is ridiculous how much of Eddie's comedy really comes from his life and was not just made up. We see Eddie visiting his childhood home in Northern Ireland, looking forlorn and nostalgic. Over this visit we are treated to a montage of old pictures of Eddie and his family. These montages continue throughout the movie and are actually very interesting to watch. They are the types of things that true aficionados of Izzard's work, and of Izzard himself, will enjoy. It is also around this time, when Eddie was 6, that his family moved to the south of Wales and his mother died of cancer. This hit him very hard, changed him profoundly, and is a line that continues throughout the film. When he was older, he wanted to be an actor, but instead started in sketch comedy with a few different troupes. When that did not work out, he moved on to street performing and finally ended up in stand up comedy.
The video is great with the production budget up on the screen through every animation and interview (George Clooney and Robin Williams both pop up to say a few words). The home movies and footage filmed by fans, of course are of lesser quality. The audio is simple 2 channel Dolby Digital which works just fine for the purposes of this documentary. The extras include "The Infamous Wolves Sketch," which is a sketch that I, someone who has all of Eddie's US released DVDs, had never heard or seen before. It shows his brilliant humor even from in an earlier time and foreshadows the great conedy he would later give us.
One of the last scenes in the film shows Eddie sitting on a chair talking to someone off camera about his mother and a letter she'd written just before she died. While reminiscing back on his life, he came to an epiphany that his mother's death had really propelled him throughout his life and that many of the things he'd done -- striving to entertain, coming out of the closet as a transvestite -- had come from losing his mother at such a young age. This realization felt very cathartic for him (the camera zooms in for a tighter close up so we can really see the tears streaming down his face). Still, since it is something that feels so personal, I wondered why this was released to the public at large and why this seemed to be the theme for his biography. Perhaps it is meant to help others in situations similar to his, however, this was not made clear. It is intriguing, but in the end, unless you really love Eddie, it isn't so entertaining. It feels like Sarah Townsend made this movie for Eddie and not for us; we just happened to be able to buy it.
"Not guilty" for the Eddie Izzard enthusiast. "Possibly
lackluster" for all others.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Sketch