Tracker Pixel for Entry

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Fred Rogers Documentary Brings Such a Good Feeling

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | June 6th, 2018

Mr. Rogers

In a bit of fortuitous timing. Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville turns his attention to public television superstar Fred Rogers, an almost universally beloved figure whose unwavering message of peace, friendship, love and kindness contrasts diametrically with today’s bullying tone of undignified late-night tweets issuing from a certain well-covered account. 

One wonders how Rogers, a devoted Republican, might have dealt with the grim political partisanship that currently hamstrings just about any kind of cooperation and civility between lawmakers of opposing parties. Neville’s documentary, titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” doesn’t directly speculate on the marked differences between the quality program for children and the Orwellian doublethink accompanying so many of the president’s messages. It doesn’t really need to do so.

In several significant ways, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” works best as a straightforward piece of media history chronicling a true anomaly. As producer Margy Whitmer notes, “[If] you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.’” Neville touches on Rogers’ core philosophies, which span from the worth of each and every individual to the musically-inspired attempt to recognize and honor the difficult “modulations” experienced by children. Rogers famously devoted airtime to deconstructions of heavy topics like divorce and, following the death of Robert Kennedy, assassination. Still remarkable, even radical, when you think about it.

For committed fans of Rogers, Neville’s film offers few new or earth-shattering revelations. Given the director’s track record, the depth, breadth, and quality of the archival footage is predictably tremendous. And there is absolutely nothing amiss about the inclusion of some familiar series highlights, from the appearance of ten-year-old Jeff Erlanger in his electric wheelchair to the sight of Rogers cooling his feet in a kiddie pool with Francois Clemmons (an anecdote also visited in a memorable 2016 installment of StoryCorps). Neville also confirms Rogers’ incredible skill as a puppeteer, revealing the emotional map of the man’s keen understanding of children through characters like King Friday XIII and close-to-the-heart alter ego Daniel Striped Tiger.

Despite the fact that Rogers died in 2003, the huge amount of film and tape covering his work and career from beginning to end allows Neville to place his principal subject at the heart of the documentary. The upshot of so much content with Rogers front and center is an immediacy that has the effect of virtually erasing the passage of time. The downside, however, is a certain amount of carefully cultivated distancing that perpetuates the myth of Rogers as a servant to his work (other tall tales that weirdly dogged Rogers for years, including wartime exploits, tattoos, and hidden sexuality, are lightheartedly but firmly dispelled). Fortunately, Neville makes sure to include a few examples of off-script Rogers. One, supplied by Rogers’ son, reveals that the Lady Elaine Fairchilde voice would materialize when Fred was perturbed or aggravated by his sons.

To Neville’s credit, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” sidesteps the cliche of similar feature biographies by avoiding a parade of celebrities holding forth on the meaning of the person of the hour. Instead, he curates a very select set of interviews with key collaborators and confidantes to fill in the chapters, and the viewer is better for it. Some have wondered whether Neville should have worked harder to address frustrations and shortcomings (the movie does include a brief but valuable segment on Rogers’ “Old Friends… New Friends,” perceived largely as an unsuccessful attempt to make a show for grown-ups). But one look at a clip of Rogers greeting graduates following a commencement address affirms the what-you-see-is-what-you-get reality. As mirrored in the “New York Times” obituary of Rogers by Daniel Lewis, “...if college seniors were not always bowled over by his pronouncements, they often cried tears of joy just to see him.” Watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” you will too.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is scheduled to open in Minneapolis on June 15 and in Fargo on June 29.

Recently in:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Savanna’s Act passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate on Friday and will move to the U.S. House of Representatives.The bill, S. 1942, is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.comI held it off for as long as I could, but the other day, I caved. I thought I was doing okay. I made all the strong arguments. I applied the five canons of rhetoric, just like you’re supposed…

Saturday, December 15th, 3-6pmJunkyard Brewing Company, 1416 1st Ave N, MoorheadCome bare the elements with us for a good cause. Bring your spare winter gear to be donated to Churches United for the Homeless. Coats, gloves, boots,…

by Josh Boscheejoshua.boschee@yahoo.comphoto courtesy of Mitch MarrEight words that perfectly describe the beautiful spirit of Kim Winnegge."I have given my whole life to words."Those of us who knew her remember these words as a…

Gadfly

Affluenza

by Ed Raymond

What happens if conspicuous consumption becomes global?The latest National Geographic has an editorial “The Global Peril of Inequality” by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond which the entire world should read. The author of many…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

by Ben Myhrebenmyhre35@gmail.comUs North Dakotans love our Knoephla soup. I am no exception. I have fond childhood memories of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen making this dumpling soup. From then until today, my taste buds go…

Music

Snow and Flurry

by HPR Contributor

by Jacques Harvieux jacquesthejock@gmail.comMosh pit etiquette 101: The mosh pit is located front and center of the stage.Create a sizeable ring.When the music starts unleash mayhem. If you fall - get up immediately.If somebody…

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller beautifully translates another personal autobiography to excellent results. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is based on the confessional 2008 memoir of literary forger Lee…

SEBEKA, Minnesota – Nearly a century ago the nation was racked by inclement weather, soaring unemployment, and despair following World War I and the lucrative Roaring 20s. The 1930s were an era of dust storms and lunch lines,…

by Ryan Jankeryan.janke78@gmail.comFargo-Moorhead Community Theatre presents “A Christmas Story: The Musical” which is underway at the Stage at Island Park and will run through December 22. It has been promoted as a show both…

Those who have been reading my articles for a while may remember when I interviewed Zachary Tooker about the Level Two Comedy Club at the Radisson in Fargo. While the club may have unfortunately closed, Tooker has not ceased…

by Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comphotography by Logan MacraeEver wish you could go to your favorite brewery without leaving your house? Finally, you can (sort of). Kilstone Brewing is now doing limited can releases of some…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

“(Søren) Kierkegaard…has opened our eyes to the shallowness of much of our pseudo-Christian life, and to the outright deception in politics which Christianity has been made to serve.” - William Hubben“The people starve…