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Father...a Son...Once upon a Time in Hollywood, A (DVD)
Intimate, personal, and surprisingly candid, A Father... a Son... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood examines the dynasty of Kirk and Michael Douglas with unprecedented honesty. Because this 2005 HBO documentary was directed by actress/filmmaker Lee Grant (a close friend of the Douglases), it makes no claim of objectivity, and Grant's fawning admiration is readily apparent. On the other hand, Grant is too smart to squander this extraordinary opportunity to chronicle two generations of Hollywood success, and the Douglas family (including 83-year-old Kirk, 60-year-old Michael, and most of their extended families) participate with a warts-and-all assessment of their complex family relationships. While much of the film consists of film clips that span the length of Kirk and Michael's stellar careers, this professional material is smoothly combined with home movies, photographs, and revealing present-day interviews that emphasize the remarkable and turbulent journey that this family has taken.
Through triumphs (including Academy Awards and international honors for political activism) and tragedies (such as the death of Kirk's youngest son, Eric, from an accidental overdose), Grant shapes the Douglas saga into a universal tale of human complexity, from the chronic infidelities of father and son (both resulting in divorce from their first wives) to the hardship of Michael's struggle to emerge from his famous father's Hollywood shadow. Their long-standing dispute over the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (one of Kirk's pet projects, which Michael ultimately coproduced without Kirk's involvement) remains a sticky point, and Michael openly acknowledges that Kirk was not a good father in their early years as a family. But what ultimately emerges, through the probing lenses of Grant's multiple cameras, is a decades-long process of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the father-son conversations here literally glow with mutual love and respect, strengthened by Kirk's tenacious recovery from a stroke in 1996. You could remove fame and wealth from this familial equation, and the Douglas saga would still be a remarkable reflection of the American dream, or as Kirk calls it, "the tragedy of failure, and the tragedy of success." Touching and joyously generous in spirit, Grant's film is truly one-of-a-kind. --Jeff Shannon