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Call Me Lucky: Bobcat, Crimmins, and American Culture

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By Paul Risker.

I was fortunate enough a few years back now to be in the opening night audience when Bobcat Goldthwait opened proceedings at the 14th installment of Film4 FrightFest. The electricity that he can radiate from that place upon the stage is a remarkable feat. Although I had the pleasure to speak with him, it was from a distance, when I was in one of the hotel bars seeing him in midstream during an interview, when I was struck by the way he sat, expressing himself with his hands and a certain gleam in his eye. Bobcat has a gravitas to his personality in which he might be known for his humor, and while he can be provocative in what he says (and he was on that opening night), there is a thoughtfulness and perceptiveness that offsets his humorous nature.

To kick off Philadelphia’s The Awesome Fest 2015 tonight at 9 pm, in a free outdoor screening, will be a Goldthwait film that recalls him as no stranger to the documentary genre, which is a perfect fit for that curiously and reflective individual who wants to explore and instigate, ask questions and to use film to open up the stories of individuals and society. Even with Willow Creek (2013) – Goldthwait’s Bigfoot film – being found footage, one can see his love of storytelling but also of documentary and real life. He appreciates that collision between the two and in so many ways comedians create this personal on stage and yet it is based on their life experiences and who they are, which was never truer for Barry Crimmins, whose anger was fuelled by dark personal experiences of his adolescence that in turn echoes this sense of collision.

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Photo: Mandee Johnson

Call Me Lucky tells the story of Barry Crimmins, who was the heart of the Boston comedy scene as well as the great political humor provocateur that defined him as the conscience of America. And as the film opens it dawns on one as to why he should be the subject of a feature length documentary. The film will hopefully introduce Barry Crimmins to a new generation. I have heard the cliche “many a true word spoken in jest” more times than I can count, and watching Call Me Lucky there is an element of education through his comedy – the sole motivation not only to make people laugh but to use comedy as a cutting and subversive tool to open up the audience’s perspective. So as one encounters Crimmins (through Bobcat’s camera) he’s a provocateur, educator and champion without weighing himself down with hefty idealism.

One of the intriguing aspects of Call Me Lucky is the view of the individual as one made up of a multitude of canvases of different shades, in Crimmins’ case the comedian, victim, champion, and provocative conscience. All these are combined to shape the man known to us as Barry Crimmins. And perhaps this remains one of the most compelling aspects of Crimmins that serves to make him such a compelling character, alongside his ability to imbue himself with mystery through comments in which humor offsets truth. For any character or individual to be interesting there needs to be a remnant of mystery and Crimmins feeds this vital ingredient to Bobcat from in front of the camera.

Call Me Lucky shows that life is a mix of darkness and light, and there are those who almost seem feted to suffer, as sacrificial lambs. But from the shadow of nightmarish child rape, Crimmins was a force for positive change at a time in the internet’s beginnings when society was otherwise ignorant to the spread of online child pornography. Within our contemporary society we are facing concerns about issues of privacy and the access to information, and Crimmins’ story notes that the democratization and greater freedom of the early internet was vulnerable to corruption. It speaks of where we are at still, with having to ensure technological evolution does not out-evolve the law and morality.

Bobcat has created a compelling documentary about a man who cannot be simply defined, and the documentary mirrors the life of its subject through the lens of America’s yesteryear and future.

Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Flickering Myth, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.

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