This meteoric rise and fall is chronicled in Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie
, a documentary that both celebrates and vilifies its subject, because it tells the truth. Mort would've loved it; Mort would've hated it. I love it.
Predictably, directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger gain much mileage from the prodigious use of clips from the show. Whether broadcast or taped during breaks, these demonstrate how much of the “talk show with a hockey audience” was staged, with Downey masterfully playing his part of “the angry populist” who got in guests' faces to scream insults like “pablum-puking fink.”
Eventually, the role of the anti-Phil Donahue went to Downey's head, and he became as boorish off-camera than on-, culminating in a desperate hoax for publicity and attention that effectively alienated him from the spotlight for the remainder of his life. (He died in 2001.) Although his many exes don't participate in the film, his daughter does, lending great credibility, as do past guests/targets that include Gloria Allred, Alan Dershowitz and Pat Buchanan. (The Rev. Al Sharpton is a notable no-show, despite being a huge part of the story.)
What I didn't expect from Évocateur
was something it does from the start: drawing a direct line from Downey's right-wing-baiting shenanigans to those today of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and their ilk. The comparison is terrifying, something I hadn't thought of before and yet dead-on. As one talking-head interview puts it, "Mort just understood performance."
That makes Évocateur
as enlightening as it is entertaining. It's a documentary I wished would go on for at least another half-hour; certainly it had more to say, since Downey never would shut up. Magnolia Home Entertainment's Blu-ray mitigates this thirst slightly with six minutes of memorable moments among the special features. —Rod Lott