MSPIFF 2016 Review: Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You

The creator of television's greatest hits is the focus in this great documentary.
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Before I explain anything about Norman Lear or this documentary, I feel that It’s important to give a quick, little lesson on early TV programs.  Most of the sitcoms that were made in the early '50s were ones that did not reflect society but were ones a lot of people thought society wanted to be.  Shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it To Beaver showed a very idealistic way the moral majority viewed the American family.  Most of the problems involved simple things like the boss coming over for dinner and little Jimmy cheating on a test. 

All that changed when All in the Family premiered in 1971.  It showcased a family that had never been seen before.  The members fought constantly and did not always agree with each other like in earlier sitcoms.  It dealt with issues like racism, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, drug use, and other things that were not talked about on TV at the time.  The network was so worried about the backlash they thought the show would receive, they had to issue a disclaimer before the pilot episode aired.  It received a lot of letters and soon went on to become one of the most influential shows of all time.  Its use of satire and comedy with contraversial subjects was a good way to help ease tensions and get people to talk about them.  There would be no The Daily Show or South Park without the work of Norman Lear and his writers.  Mr. Lear took risks with his shows and that sort of effort is rarely seen, if not at all, today.  It’s sort of weird but some of the network shows now feel like they are the ones from the early '50s that Lear’s shows were rebelling against.

The documentary does what others do and gives you a little history about Norman Lear’s life.  One of the most interesting facts involved is his father who went to prison for selling fake bonds.  Norman Lear has stated that the character of Archie Bunker from All in The Family was based on his father.  After he joined the air force during WWII, Norman began writing for movies and variety programs. Some of them include Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ comedy hour.  Although he did have his run of successful sitcoms, including The Jeffersons, Sanford & Son, and Maude, there was some backlash against the show Good Times because many thought it stereotyped Black Americans, especially the popularity of J.J.'s Walker character and his catch phrase.  I remember that show having a lot of good characters who were more then just a one-line gimmick. 

Lear was known for fighting censorship with the networks about certain topics.  It was refeshing to see him not give in to their demands and the results was a big win for him.  He then quit to become an activist.  He went up against Jerry Falwell and other right-wing evangelists who claimed that anyone who did not follow their beliefs were evil in the eyes of the Lord.  There is a great scene with the late Robin Williams at a political rally for a movie that never finished that is really funny.

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady do a great job at visualizing Lear’s life by not having just interviews solely.  I like how they have him narrate passages from his memoirs and mix that with an image of a young boy discovering being on the stage for the first time.  He was 92 when this picture was made but you would have never guess it.  He is so fascinated by everything in his life and he uses that to inspire everything that he does.  Well, he is a guy that will continue to inspire me.  

We will never have another show like All in The Family because of our PC culture.  A lot of people would be way too offended and the negative comments would out weigh the positive ones.  I feel it would be best if we did have something  to envoke a discussion like that show did.  South Park is the only one that can come close to being on the same page as that classic.  However that one is on cable and it's difficult to find a broadcast network brave enough to show it 

This month I will be attending the Minneapolis International Film Festival presented by the Minneapolis Film Society. There will be tons of great movies and documentaries that I am very excited for you to check out or ones I will warn you to avoid.  If you would like any more information on how to join their Society, please click on the link here.


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