Being Evel: DVD Review
Released by Madman Home Ent
Evel Knievel was a presence in the 1970s, a star-spangled daredevil hero that America needed to boost its morale.
With his cane and fur-coat appearance on the Johnny Carson Show opening this doco from Johnny Knoxville, that has as much energy (and occasionally rhapsodising from uber-fan Knoxville) as you'd expect from the MTV generation, the stall is set out early on.
Knievel was a showman, a hustler in his stuntman heyday - wrapped in his white leather costume with the American flag emblazoned onto the outfit, he was the hero that America needed in the wake of Nixon and Vietnam.
But it wasn't always so - and that's where this doco gets the Knievel legend really right. By bringing us in on his past growing up in Butte Montana, (mainly via Knoxville's demonstrative and exhaustive knowledge about the man), we get an insight into the bluster that the showman concocted.
From selling the most insurance policies by working a mental hospital and constantly hustling, Rob Knievel was already on the way to creating a persona for himself and it was only his decision to jump over cougars and rattlesnakes (one of the doco's laugh-out-loud tall tales) that sent him careering off into the world of fame.
Exhaustive is perhaps the best way to describe this piece, as it concentrates on anyone who worked with or met the man and the myth of the red, white and blue suited legend. But Oscar-winning director Daniel Junge never loses sight of the man on the bike, thanks to plenty of photos, archive footage and of course scenes of Knievel performing his daredevil tasks.
Some of the footage is horrifying - in the pre-Jackass days, seeing a man hurt himself when a stunt went wrong was never as guilty a pleasure as it is now; unlike Knoxville et al, Knievel never carried out these stunts to fail or get a cheap laugh - he was embodying the real-life superhero aspirations to soar above the skies. But the shots (replayed a few times) of Knievel going head-over-the-handlebars at Caesar's Palace on December 31st 1967 are shocking as he looks like a rag doll thrown to the wind.
But it's when the braggadocio and bluster are dropped that Junge delves more into the man himself, giving us a fascinating glimpse at a man who occasionally let the show slip and let the nastier man out. Certainly the warts-and-all approach helps to demystify him without taking anything away from his achievements; these chink-in-the-armour looks are sickeningly thrilling.
While Junge propels things along as zippily as Knievel on his bike, some of Knoxville's enthusiastic fanboying and affection occasionally gets in the way as he discusses the impact on extreme sports that the legend created. But for the most part, the multitude of talking heads don't hinder this doco, thanks to Junge's steady hand, a never-ending source of material and a peek into the mind of a man who represented an ideal.
Granted, the final section is missing one key question and it's frustrating; when seeking atonement for his behaviour, it's not asked if he pleaded for forgiveness from Shelly Saltman, whom he went to prison for assaulting - it's a minor oversight that should be corrected.
All in all, Being Evel captures the thrill of this influential man, the idea and of the zeitgeist as America tried to get back on its feet - and Junge, along with Knoxville, make a great job of covering a lot of ground in this piece.
In fact, you could say that Being Evel is wheelie good.