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In the late '80s, the masses fixated on a single, sociopathic star. Morton Downey Jr. tore apart the traditional talk format by turning debate of current issues into a gladiator pit.
His blow-smoke-in-your-face style drew a rabid cult following, but also the title "Father of Trash Television."
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I actually remember seeing Downey's show when it was still being aired. The filmmakers have definitely captured the essence of those shows as well as an in depth look at Downey's place in television history. I had somehow forgotten the details of his aggressive (rabid might be more accurate) and intense persona. A chain smoker, he would puff away while assessing his audiences and guests.
He'd also ramp up audience energy (they didn't need much encouragement) until many would be yelling and insulting the guests along with him. Downey's bullying and taunts set the wave for shock jocks and other incendiary television hosts to come. Viewing the faces of those in his audiences reveals just how easily he could tap into their anger and turn it from a simmering undercurrent into a full boil.
Even if you watched every one of his shows when they were on air, this film includes clips and footage which have never been seen before - as well as intriguing animation in sections. This is a chance to see early reality television, a must for anyone interested in how it all began - and evolved. Along the way, the filmmakers reveal not only how Downey drew a following but his missteps and eventual fall. I'm not an expert in social or television history so I can't say that Downey was THE trendsetter for this type of television. But he was among the earliest ones.
By the way, his show is only one part of Downey's extensive career. He appeared in television series such as Diagnosis Murder and also had roles in movies. He was also a singer, with records released for Gold Records and Artists of America. Downey's wife is attempting to make his shows available to the public again.
I can recall watching the Morton Downey show back when I was a university student and I vividly remember the shouting matches, the physical altercations, and the overall mayhem that took place on each show. Downey was all about knee- jerk emotional reactions and he was able to work crowds into a frenzy with his taunting, antagonistic statements, and occasional witty remarks toward guests. Footage from some of the most memorable moments on the show are highlighted in this documentary and they will bring back memories to those of us who watched the show during its brief existence.
Much of Evocateur is spent talking to the people close to Downey and they candidly share opinions about him and his style. You get to hear some points of view from people who appeared on the show plus some opinions from his daughter, commentator Pat Buchanan, talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael, and others. These individuals let their opinions be known in a respectful and balanced way. You get the feeling that some of them didn’t think much of Downey’s style, yet they still respected him and agree that his presence has had a lasting impact on talk television. You also get to learn the more about the mistakes that Downey made, ultimately leading to his show's cancellation and his fall into obscurity.
Evocateur devotes only a small amount of time to Downey’s final days, when he was dying from lung cancer. I wish there would have been a little more coverage here and I also wish the documentary had spent more time showing footage from some of the classic episodes. The bulk of the documentary is devoted to people who knew Downey either through working with him on the show, appearing on the show, or through family/friendships. This is nice and it was interesting to learn more about the man and his mission. But fans of the show will long to see more actual footage and relive some of those awkward and unpredictable moments.
Talk television has come a long way since the 1980’s. Morton Downey Jr is often considered a founding father of trash talk television and Evocateur is a good way to take a trip down memory lane while learning a little more about the man behind the oversized mouth; his background, his life experiences, and his impact on television and other media. Other than a few small issues, this is a very good documentary overall and it’s great for those who like to reminisce about this highly controversial man and the talk show that captivated the nation during its short but influential run.
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