Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

(l-r) Lloyd Kaufman, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger, Seth Kramer

(l-r) Lloyd Kaufman, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger, Seth Kramer

“Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” is a compelling, no-holds barred documentary portrait of controversial talk show host Morton Downey, Jr.   His incendiary talk show, “The Morton Downey Jr. Show,” went on the air, on WWOR TV, channel 9, broadcasting from Secaucus New Jersey, on October 19, 1987.  It burned itself out in less than two years.  How outrageous was it?  It was the first talk show to put its audience members, collectively called “The Beast,” through metal detectors.  Knives were confiscated and audience members arrived in costume.  Eccentric characters from New Jersey received airtime long before their current exposure via the cast of “The Jersey Shore.”

The documentary explains that, after Watergate, America no longer cared for polite, sedate talk shows and was ready for a show like Downey’s.  Downey played the part of the angry populist, loudly berating any guest whose views differed from his.  Downey, I learned from the  film, was actually a very liberal minded guy (a good friend and supporter of Ted Kennedy) who saw an angle in adopting an angry, right wing persona.  He sold himself as a surrogate of working class folks who had a desire for a conservative point of view.  As former talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael explains in the film, “If you say you’re a tree long enough, you’ll get leaves.”

One of Downey’s producers points out that if you’re not tethered to the facts then it’s about emotion, not intellect.  Emotion was the order of the day.  Fights regularly broke out as Downey screamed in his guests’ faces from about an inch away, while security tried to maintain order.

The screening of “Evocateur” that I attended this past Saturday, at the Quad Cinema, was introduced by a former Downey guest, Lloyd Kaufman.  Kaufman is the founder of Troma Films, a  Long Island City based movie production company specializing in low budget action and comedy films, probably best known for having produced “The Toxic Avenger” (1984).  Kaufman recalled being thrown off the set, literally, of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show.”  He said that, to this day, he has a shoulder injury from the experience. The incident is shown in the documentary.

Kaufman explained he had just come from the funeral of someone he knew who was the nicest person in the world, and now here he was introducing a movie about one of the most horrible people in the world.  Not one to mince words, Kaufman told the audience that “Pretty much everyone in this movie is a scumbag.” Kaufman later added, referring to Downey, “You can see how Hitler got  to where he got.  This guy (Downey), he’s a left winger, then he goes to the right.  He would have done anything.”

Following the screening Kaufman led a Q & A session with “Evocateur’s” three directors, Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films.  “We were fans,” Miller explained. “We were very interested in what drew us to Morton Downey and what draws people to similar “Morton Downeys” today.  We were interested in dissecting what motivated him.”

“Evocateur” has been intelligently edited, inter-cutting archival footage of Downey’s show with modern day interviews with those who were there.  The interviewees include a “whose who” of talk show hosts, Downey’s producers, fans, guests and audience regulars.  Talk show hosts Richard Bay, Sally Jesse Raphael, Bill Boggs, comedian Chris Elliott, attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Gloria Allred, among others, all share their experiences and impressions of Downey.

I first came across “Evocateur” at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012.  I enjoyed it then and so was pleased to see this final, partially re-edited version which, in my opinion, played even better than the version I saw in 2012.

“Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” is playing at the Quad Cinema, 34West 13th Street.  It is also available on pay per view and on Amazon Prime.

“Evocateur,” directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger, 2013,

Magnolia Pictures, Rated R

seth@townvillage.net

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 19, 2013, in Documentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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