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BEING EVEL (review)

Review by Generoso Fierro
Executive Produced by Molly Thompson, George Hamilton
Produced by Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine, Mat Hoffman
Written by Daniel Junge, Davis Coombe
Directed by Daniel Junge
Featuring Johnny Knoxville, Mat Hoffman, George Hamilton,
Shelly Saltman, Linda Bork Knievel, Robbie Knievel,
Krystal Knievel, Frank Gifford, Tony Hawk, Travis Pastrana

Somewhere lurking in your toy collection, if you were a little boy or girl growing up in the early 1970s, is an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle that you cherished more than almost any toy you possessed.

Of course, if you were lucky enough like my friend Paul to have an Evel Knievel Scramble Van or the Evel Knievel Canyon Sky Cycle, you may have cherished those things more.

In fact, there were countless toys and accessories for the Evel Knievel fan out there in the 1970s because it seemed that Evel himself was everywhere, or as one interviewee states in Being Evel, the new bio documentary by Daniel Junge, “Evel was the 1970s.”

For those of you too young to remember, Evel Knievel (born Robert Craig Knievel in Butte, Montana), was a flamboyant motorcycle daredevil operating in the 1970s who completely captured the imagination of a United States that was looking for a hero after the turbulence of the 1960s and the ongoing Vietnam War.

Whenever Evel would attempt a stunt on television, either on ABC’s popular program, The Wide World Of Sports, or a closed circuit event, the country would be glued to the screen to see if he would still be alive at the other end of the ramp or at least to find out how many bones he broke doing the stunt.

Knievel was also the talk show circuit, appearing on Carson, Dinah, and Cavett; you name it, someone every night had to talk with Evel about the cult of Evel.

Junge assembled an impressive cast containing everybody of note who was affected by Evel, both personally and those affected by the televised mystique that dominated the 70s. Like the massive volume of merchandising available to satisfy the fandom of Evel, there is an enormous number of stories, both good and wretched, that Evel was connected to during his time on our planet.

The cast includes Evel’s beleaguered wife Linda, who had to endure Evel’s constant open carousing much to her displeasure, Shelley Saltman, his promotions manager for the Snake River Canyon fiasco whom Evel beat with a baseball bat shortly after being displeased with his tell all book about Evel, and on the more positive front, Tony Hawk, Johnny Knoxville (who co-produced the film) and many others who make a good point that “extreme” or action sports as well as Knoxville’s own show Jackass would most likely not be around if not for Evel’s devil may care attitude about death in exchange for fame and fortune.

The narrative is told in a fairly traditional fashion, maybe too traditional as Junge used a multitude of the aforementioned talking heads and some archival footage to accentuate Knievel’s exploits, which is fine enough except that given the larger than life personality that he was, you aren’t as blown away by the presentation of the material as you should be.

It is a professionally made documentary treatment that could have taken inspiration from Evel himself to take a few more chances in its presentation to match the dynamic personality that was Evel Knievel.

Despite that, it is not a total fluff piece, as even though Being Evel does contain a good amount of hero worship, it does go to some fairly dark places to reveal the inner demons of a man from a small town who may have come across way too much notoriety and wealth in too short a time. After hearing the whole story, I never really regretted all of the afternoons I spent playing with my Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, trying to jump Evel over my G.I. Joes that were lying in sleeping position.

Keeping my memory of Evel positive was not as easy as I hoped, for after seeing Being Evel, I was left with a clear idea of a brave but flawed man whom I loved as a boy and a man who gambled an awful lot on his own life, showing no fear while impressing millions of people, but in the process hurt many of those who actually knew him. 

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