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:

BISMARCK – Two bills are fighting for ethical supremacy in the North Dakota State Legislature. Senate Bill 2148, sponsored by Senator Tim Mathern, a Democrat from Fargo, received a ‘Do Pass’ from Special Ethics Committee on…

Culture

​‘Pull-Tab’ machines

by HPR Contributor

By Zach Nerpelzachnerpel@gmail.comThere is nothing more hopeless than a feeling unrequited. The obsession it brings, the doubt it stews, and the madness which erases your sense of self are crippling. You’ll give more than you are…

Thursday, February 21, 5:30-8:30 p.m.650 40th Ave S, West FargoThe area’s premier evening of Yoga, wine, cheese and community. Luna Fargo restaurant owner and wine/cheese expert, Nikki Berglund, will select 3 pairings to follow…

It will be Valentine’s Day by the time this issue hits the stands, but who knows you might even be picking it up after you’ve finished eating the last of the chocolates you bought for yourself for Valentine’s Day.We’re not…

Gadfly

Anti-Life America

by Ed Raymond

All The Evidence Points To An Anti-Life Political PartyAfter observing and experiencing the machinations and voting records of the Republican Party from Nixon to Reagan To Bush To Trump, one can arrive at only one conclusion: It is…

After a day of checking the weather updates and keeping an eye on any closing announcements from this week’s entrants, our judges ordered up a ride share service and headed out to the western side of town for two stops in West…

Over the past few years Luna has become my favorite restaurant in the FM area. The thoughtfulness of Ryan’s creations and the neighborhood environment of the locale as a whole creates a beautiful experience that can’t be found…

Music

​Ready or Knot

by HPR Contributor

By Gary Usseryusseryg@gmail.comWhen Sabrina gets a hold of you and asks you to interview a band as unique as Fargo locals The Knotties you just yell “yes!” Only a few days later I was meeting with Channing Minnema (lead vocals,…

Documentarian Penny Lane adds another entertaining movie to her filmography with an inside look at the recent rise of the Satanic Temple. As a movie experience, “Hail Satan?” often lives deliciously. The film might even turn…

By Jacinta Zensjacinta.zens@gmail.comThe Department of Visual Arts at Minnesota State Community and Technical College Fergus Falls and the Kaddatz Galleries are excited to announce the First Annual Visiting Artists Workshop series.…

To many people unfamiliar with the wide range of the musical genre, the word ‘opera’ conjures up stereotypical images of people in period costumes and large women in Viking garb singing in foreign languages. The truth, however,…

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…

The 1,290 square-foot garage that was once Main Avenue Auto has generated a lot of buzz for good reason. Harold’s on Main is Moorhead’s newest watering hole and the attention is all in the details. With its dark wood paneling,…

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…

By Cara Cody-Brauncara.braun@wyndmereschools.orgI am not much of a science fiction fan, but I’m a sucker for a story with a portal. Who hasn’t dreamed of entering a different world? Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole in…