Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018): Structure Hinders the Touching Remembrance

This is the first documentary I’ve reviewed and it is also one that is solidly good. Seriously, before I get into analyzing this film, go and see it. If you have any attachment to the past and having PBS’s “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood” as what you knew growing up, this film is worth it. Before I say anything else, this film is worth checking out for how it explores who Fred Rodgers was. A great documentary is hard to do, and this doesn’t reach the levels of great, good is as good as it gets.

The documentary was directed by Morgan Neville and covers the life of Fred Rogers, focusing on his story as told through the show and his relationship with the people on the show, as well as what lead him to PBS in the first place.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Beginning – The story starts out with how Fred Rodgers wanted to go into Christian Ministry and decided pretty early on that television would be the best way to do this. Before this he studied child psychology to inform his ministry and we learn about the early show he created with his wife before the creation of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The Psychology of Fred Rodgers – One of the running themes of the show is the exploration of Fred Rodger’s psychology. This is used in the characters on his show as he grew up in an environment that looked down on showing emotion so he used his puppet characters to express his feelings. This became a way for him to actively listen as well as he would use the characters to form connections with the children he’d help on the show. The show expresses this with Daniel Tiger who is the shy part of Mr. Rodger’s psychology. He’s vulnerable and the show expresses that this is the closest we get to seeing the real man, though many characters say he becomes King Friday by the end of his career where he becomes gruffer and focused on his legacy, while still being the Tiger but the Tiger is now the King.

Love – One of the running themes of the documentary is that of love. Fred Rodger’s love of the kids he would visit or who would visit him as part of the show, love of his crew and the relationships he built there and his relationship with his wife. Each of these explores a different aspect of the man as for them he was a friend and sometimes even a surrogate father as his love was so genuine. One of the strongest stories is how Francois Clemens came out of the closet to Mr. Rodgers and ended up adopting him as a surrogate dad, even as he was living closeted for the show to keep it’s funding.

Imagination – The other theme is that of imagination. Mr. Rodgers never goes to the land of Make Believe and because he doesn’t go a whole world is expressed there created from imagination. This is a world with a royal family, living animals and humans who interact with them. Often he would use this world to tackle real world issues like the horrors of Vietnam and death as some of the plots involved characters sending messages of love, that lead to King Friday tearing down the wall he made separating himself from the Kingdom. I have fond memories of the Land of Make Believe. Seeing the work that was put into that magic was inspiring.

The Cons:

Structure – The structure of the documentary doesn’t work. There are times it really lags and some of the sections could have been much smaller while other sections, especially as they related to Fred Rodgers the man, could have been expanded on. In many ways this is a documentary about the show, and I liked that but in focusing so much on the show we miss out more on learning who Fred Rodgers was. How did his ministry inform his relationships? What was his relationship like with the people we’ve met in his old age? How was he like King Friday at the end? These are all questions that never really get answered beyond surface level. This isn’t a deep dive documentary, which would have made it great if it had.

This is a really good documentary that is well worth your time if you grew up watching “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.” In this film you will see the depths of compassion and love this complex man had for humanity, as well as the creative mind that made a show that connected with millions over generations. I’m glad that this gets to be the first documentary I review for the blog. Check it out, if you have the chance.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

 

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Chaos on the Bridge (2014): A Documentary Exploring the Conflict Behind Starting “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

Chaos on the Bridge poster

    I’m not the biggest fan of William Shatner. The stories of how he treated the cast, and his pet project film of “The Final Frontier” was just awful as it was all about Kirk and he even had the crew of the “Enterprise” turn against him just so he could be the center of attention…so yeah, I’m not the biggest fan. This is a decent documentary though and I really liked seeing him explore other egos and the mess that was the first 2 season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

      Shatner directed the film and it aired on HBO.

      The story involves the drama behind the creation of and initial failure of “Star Trek: The Next Generations” through interviews to give the different sides of the story in the conflicts that took place on getting the new “Star Trek” off the ground.

The Pros: Roddenberry’s Story – Roddenberry’s story is sad as you have a man who lost his art since it was owned by Paramount and the studio didn’t give him anything until the films. This lead to him being very selfish both during “The Original Series” and his attempt to micromanage “The Next Generation,” which made the early stories suck as he could change his mind at any point and had surrounded himself with “yes” men. It wasn’t until he left that the show was really able to find it’s footing, though he gave us some great ideas like the Holodeck and of course “Star Trek” which made “The Next Generation” and my favorite of the Treks, “Deep Space Nine” possible.

Interviews with the Actors – The interviews with the actors and team are a lot of fun as you get an idea of how the personalities clashed and it gives a taste of how close so many of them were. Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) and Jonathan Frakes (Will Riker) were great examples of this, as was Denise Crosby who sadly got shafted (like McFadden did by Hurley).

Patrick Stewart – Patrick Stewart being cast as the Captain is a really cool story as he was wearing a wig at first but was accepted by Rodenberry after he took it off and he convinced everyone that in the future hair doesn’t matter. It was a cool moment! Later Stewart got in a fight when he thought what he was doing was being mocked but was able to resolve it with one of the Producers.

The Turn Around – After Maurice Hurley leaves and Roddenberry leaves the show gets back on task. Hurley gave us the Borg, which was a great idea but he held to closely to Roddenberry’s vision of human perfection so there was no character conflict….this was a big reason the first 2 season sucked. Our characters were just bland and didn’t have characterization.

William Shatner – Shatner showed class in this. He was sad at not being asked to be involved with starting “The Next Generation” but he moved on and he clearly had a lot of respect for the people he was interviewing. It truly felt that he did this project out of a genuine care for Trek and curiosity of what came after him.

The Cons: The Animation – The animation looks like a comic book and clashes with drama that unfolded. Which is a shame since the animation isn’t bad, it just tonally felt very jarring.

The Soundtrack – It is very jokey and clashed with the Rodenberry story and a new creation finding it’s footing.

This was a good short documentary that I’d recommend. Shatner’s ego doesn’t really come out and he comes off as genuine and sincere throughout the entire project, so he’s clearly grown at least somewhat from the past. The animation and soundtrack detract from it but learning about the drama and the interviews really carry it and made it an enjoyable watch.

Final Score: 7 / 10