FILM: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

 Image from KRCB

“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

What if I told you I saw a movie that could change the world? Well, I can’t say for sure that- if everyone saw it, it would- but it’s a great place to start.

Producer/Director Morgan Neville has made some terrific documentary films, including ‘Twenty Feet from Stardom’- about how back-up singers helped make some of our greatest music recordings and ‘Best of Enemies’ about Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. He returns to that time period here with ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’- his look at the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ fame.

 Image: Katherine Martinelli

As a kid, I have to tell you I didn’t watch his show much. Even as a youngster, I kind of doubted he could really be who he appeared to be. And, to filmmaker Neville’s credit, he recognizes that skepticism and has several of his interview subjects address that matter openly. As his wife and even his own kids say on camera, yes, he really was like that.

It appears that overcoming his own childhood awkwardness, long illnesses and weight issues- yes, he was bullied, too- all helped prepare him to communicate to kids in a way strictly meant to be helpful to them.

 Image: Uproxx

On his show he addressed such tough subjects as how to manage anger, overcome prejudice and what divorce means. He also devoted a week’s worth of shows to dealing with death, and what it feels like to lose someone you love- or even your pet. Remember- this was a kids show! And he handled these topics with an innate sensitivity and paternal wisdom that somehow made it- if not entirely okay- still much better.

 Image: Paste

But his influence ran deeper than kids as, after our country experienced several traumatic incidents, he became a news resource for his take on how we could all best handle what happened and work to move forward.

Since his show went national in 1967 he took on the Vietnam War and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and, later, he even was sought out to record a public service announcement in the aftermath of 9/11- to help the country heal.

Credit: Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP/REX/ Shutterstock. IndieWire

That is what he was so good at- and why this film could not be more timely now- as politics, whatever your political leanings are, seem to have our country in such a deep divide, Fred Rogers’ message of love and compassion could not be more needed than right now.

One of my favorite scenes is watching Rogers, identified as a lifelong Republican, testify before a Congressional hearing when, during Nixon’s presidency, Senator John Pastore, a Democrat, was ready to cut funding for public broadcasting to less than half its $20 million. Pastore, growing impatient with all the testimonies, had never seen ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and was ready to close the hearing but Rogers’ 6-minute testimony moved him so much he told him, “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

And that is how Fred Rogers saved PBS.

 Koko, interviewed by Rogers; from YouTube

Also, if Rogers’ interviews with the boy in the wheelchair and Koko the gorilla don’t get to you, check to see if you still have a pulse.

I took my wife and son to see this and my son was blown away by the vision he had and his ability to stay focused on it. Both my wife and son said to me that, if I didn’t give this movie 5 stars, I would have to explain why. Not to worry- I give ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ 5 stars out of 5. It’s the best movie I’ve seen all year.

Oh- the evening we saw it, the usher told us- as we were exiting- that he thought it should be shown in classrooms all across the country.

What a great idea.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com,  where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking movies for WICC 600!”

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