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Movie Review: Roadrunner (and Summer of Soul)

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN (and SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED))! (July 30, 2021)

Click here for the blurb and viewing link of ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN!


“Close-Up with Camenker” is back after a brief hiatus and thrilled to feature a review of two documentaries that have shown at Red River during its period of reopening! The feeling of excitement in coming back to the familiar lobby and cinema was palpable when I saw my first film back at the theatre, ROADRUNNER, which is continuing to play in person.

When celebrity chef and world traveler Anthony Bourdain died on June 8, 2018, the world watched with great sadness and shock in learning that a beloved icon who so many traveled with vicariously had taken his own life. Just three days before, fashion designer Kate Spade had also died by suicide, which brought a similar level of sadness and shock to many.

I can remember hearing about both Spade and Bourdain’s deaths and being saddened that two seemingly successful and happy people had left the world in this way. As the new piece on Bourdain details, however, some of his closest family, friends, and confidantes have looked back on their time with “Tony” and wished they’d recognized earlier warning signs that he was facing major issues. Kate Spade, who is not spoken of in the film, had sought help for depression and anxiety for years while Bourdain evidently lived with a lot of hidden challenges as way too many people battling mental illness do.

ROADRUNNER is directed by Academy Award winning documentarian Morgan Neville and focuses intently on the last 20 years of Bourdain’s life, particularly following the publication of his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which propelled him to unprecedented fame.

Chronicling his work as an accomplished chef, writer, traveler, and foodie, the film features archival footage and interviews with those close to Bourdain in a “cinéma vérité” style. Film from the last 20 years of his life is juxtaposed with recent interviews that reflect on his culinary success, investment in travel, and personal issues. You learn a great deal about Bourdain as a person in the process and feel as though you are traveling right alongside him.

I knew very little about Bourdain, so this was an enlightening and fascinating piece. Of particular fascination to me was how enamored Bourdain, who had traveled very little prior to his fame, was with certain locations. For example, his investment in traveling to Vietnam stemmed from an almost “hero worship” of the 1979 film APOCALYPSE NOW, based on the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness. It was almost as if Bourdain saw himself in fictional characters who had tried to save others. A part of me wondered if this stemmed from his early battles with addiction in which he almost did not save himself while the other part of me felt as if he was simply trying to make the world a better place through sharing his travels and food adventures. Perhaps a bit of both.

Additionally, I was unaware that Bourdain became an outspoken advocate during the “Me Too” movement as it arrived in the fall of 2017. For reasons that will become clearer to you as you watch the film, Bourdain was deeply invested in calling out those who behaved poorly, even to the point where it lost him some friendships in his final months of life.

Ultimately, Neville’s piece is really strong in its ability to distinguish Bourdain’s unique characteristics and how he rose to fame. It packs a good deal in during its two hour timeframe, but does not delve into certain pieces of his life that would, I feel, have been beneficial to the narrative. Instead of being left satisfied, I am left wondering, which is likely the goal given Bourdain’s demise and lack of explanation (he left no written note). I wonder even more about Bourdain’s early life and what his career looked like before he published his book, but I guess I’ll have to continue wondering as so many will likely never know.

Speaking of never knowing, were it not for the valiant efforts of musician Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, few people would have known about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Highlighted in Questlove’s outstanding documentary SUMMER OF SOUL, the Festival was the pop culture epicenter for black musicians in the blues, jazz, gospel, and rock genres. Despite being an enormous success, much like the Woodstock Festival which took place just 100 miles from Harlem, the event was largely forgotten after it ended and footage was lost for 50 years.

A unique blend of restored footage and retrospective interviews with a much larger emphasis on the former, SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on a period of enormous pride in the black community in Harlem and one that featured top-notch performances by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, The Fifth Dimension, and Mahalia Jackson, among others. Additionally, Questlove’s documentary explores the intersection of Spanish Harlem’s involvement in the Festival, particularly how Cuban music with African roots played an influential role.

A jam packed two hours that flies by, SUMMER OF SOUL transports you back to another time. Like the Bourdain documentary, you feel as though you are there, though the difference here is that the monumental event is much more inviting and uplifting than Bourdain’s ultimately saddening story.

Although SUMMER OF SOUL has now left Red River, it can be easily streamed at home on Hulu and is worth your time. Pop some popcorn and enjoy being transported back to the late 60s in Harlem. You will not be disappointed!


Stay tuned for Volume XVII, which will appear on Friday, August 13.”


Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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