Remembering Gene Wilder is a moving and well made documentary about a comedian that provided us with many laughs in his career.
It’s hard to believe that this summer will mark eight years since Wilder’s passing. I still remember learning the news and wanting to watch a film in tribute. This was before we had a surplus of screeners, not to mention my physical collection on hand. Luckily enough, The Crowd Theater announced a screening of Blazing Saddles and there were plenty of laughs to be had that night. There is a lot to be said about what can and cannot be done today. It does not change the fact that the film is one of the best comedies in cinematic history. As Ben Mankiewicz argues in the film, Wilder and Mel Brooks are among the greatest teams in screen history. Sure, they only did three films together but they are among the best comedies of all time, including The Producers and Young Frankenstein.
The story behind Young Frankenstein is really fascinating. Gene shares a story about watching The Marty Feldman Show. As for Peter Boyle’s involvement, all three just happened to share the same agent: Mike Medavoy. It’s no secret that one of the best scenes in the film is the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” sequence. And yet, Mel Brooks thought about cutting it from the film. It took Gene fighting to keep it in and the rest is history. Amongst interview subjects, Brooks gets the most time to reflect but he’s among those who knew Gene the longest next to family members.
Next to the Mel Brooks films and his films with Richard Pryor, the film with the most attention is The Frisco Kid. While there are interviews with a producer and background performer, it’s a missed opportunity to not interview Harrison Ford. I can only assume that Ford was busy with his Indiana Jones obligations during the documentary’s production. In Wilder’s words, his character in the film is the one that is most like him. The discussion of the film also ties into his religious upbringing in Milwaukee.
In using excerpts from the Kiss Me Like A Stranger audiobook, the film allows Gene Wilder to narrate his own story. This is in addition to the several interview clips that are in the film. Having the resources available help to give Gene his voice even though he his no longer with us. Gene’s narration, photos, videos, and interviews with friends, family, and colleagues help paint a complete picture of not just who Wilder was as a mensch as well as his later relationships with both Gilda Radner and Karen Boyer.
Because of Wilder’s history with comedy, the first two-thirds of the film include a lot of laughs. It never gets funnier than watching the behind the scenes laughter during Young Frankenstein! The last third of the film is when the film will elicit the most tears while viewing. Between Gilda’s cancer diagnosis and Gene’s battle with Alzheimer’s the final third can be sad. Having known Gilda because of SNL, Alan Zweibel and Robin Zweibel offer insight on Gene and Gilda’s life together. Going off of my own experience, there won’t be a dry eye in the audience during the final half hour. Karen Boyer Wilder really speaks to the impact that the diagnosis had on Gene along with sharing his final words.
David Knight and Julie Nimoy executive produced the film. Julie’s father, Leonard Nimoy, previously directed Gene Wilder in Funny About Love. The 1990 comedy gave Wilder his first leading role in a romantic comedy. Unfortunately, it was also critically panned.
The film has been selling out festival screenings across America and rightfully so. There is so much care that went into this film and it shows in its 92 minute runtime. After screening in Miami this past weekend, the documentary closes out the New York Jewish Film Festival with a pair of screenings on Wednesday. Upcoming screenings include San Diego, Nashville, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Louisville, and more. If you have an opportunity to see the film at a festival, do not miss out!
Remembering Gene Wilder is a documentary that offers laughs and tears and is also one of the best documentaries of the year.
DIRECTOR/CO-WRITER: Ron Frank
SCREENWRITER/CO-DIRECTOR: Glenn Kirschbaum
FEATURING: Gene Wilder, Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Nancy Neufeld Callaway, Harry Connick Jr., Burton Gilliam, Michael Gruskoff, Carol Kane, Ben Mankiewicz, Eric McCormack, Mike Medavoy, Mace Neufeld, Peter Ostrum, Rochelle Pierce, Rain Pryor, Dr. Michael Rafii, Karen Wilder, Alan Zweibel, Robin Zweibel
Remembering Gene Wilder is currently playing the film festival circuit. Kino Lorber will release the film in March 2024. Grade: 5/5
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