I have been a die-hard fan of Eddie Izzard since around the age of 14. As is often the case with chance encounters, I discovered his back catalogue in completely the wrong order, by first watching Glorious and then Unrepeatable, followed by Definite Article.
It is safe to say that this non-linear approach to his work only increased the appeal, and made me more determined to find out more about the man who had introduced me so perfectly, at such a young age, to the world of observational and alternative comedy.
Since then, Eddie Izzard, for me, has been catapulted into ‘hero’ status. There isn’t a stand-up performance I haven’t seen, or a film review I haven’t read – if it is any way concerned with him, the man who made me laugh more than I thought possible, at just the point I was battling with bleak teen angst and a subsequent loathing of most things.
For all these reasons, I was surprised when kindly offered the chance to see Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story for its launch onto DVD, that I was actually slightly hesitant.
All I knew of the film before the screening was that it is a documentary directed by Sarah Townsend, Izzard’s long-term friend, ex-girlfriend and collaborator. It had received fantastic reviews when released in America, and apparently gave a great insight into the machinations of this incredibly determined and shrewd performer.
However, I felt a great personal risk. What if this film shattered all my illusions? What if, as can sometimes be the case with an initial viewing, a poor soundtrack, distracting edit, or lacklustre narrative detracted from what I wanted this film to be?
The risk, I have to say paid off tremendously.
Believe is Sarah Townsend’s film directorial debut, having previously worked in theatre, and this teamed with her intimate knowledge of the subject, brings a very fresh dynamic to the film. Pieces of archive performance footage and photographs from Eddie’s childhood are intercut with comedic, almost Python-esque animation and ‘to camera’ monologues from those closest to Eddie, as well as Eddie himself.
The film charts Izzard’s journey from workshops to the creation of material for his 2003 Sexie tour, to the start date of the tour itself. This journey is then used to simultaneously document his rise to fame, his childhood and his determination to break into America and specifically Hollywood.
A lot of the commentary comes from the man himself, but contributions are made by previous collaborators, around the time of Eddie’s street performing career, as well as Hollywood elite such as Robin Williams, which makes for a very eclectic mix of viewpoints throughout the film.
For those familiar with Eddie’s work, especially his stand-up material, the pieces chosen for the film will be familiar, with some of his more famous renditions used to punctuate what are often quite poignant moments. For example when he is discussing the death of his mother early on in the film, it is followed immediately by footage of his ‘professional mourners’ sequence from Definite Article.
The use of the stand-up footage in this way means that audience members, who are very familiar with his work, are able to revisit it in a completely different context, with loved and often quoted sequences taking on an entirely new meaning. For those new to Izzard’s work, this is a very inventive way of introducing a lot of his material in a way that also gives insight into the mind that created it.
The film builds to a climactic and emotional last interview with Eddie. For 100 minutes of the 102 minute running time of Believe, the audience at this particular screening had almost been interactive. Laughter, aside comments noting familiarity and in some places booing, filled the busy auditorium.
For the remaining two minutes however, there was barely an intake of breath, and as the final montage rolled into the credit sequence, there were goosebumps upon goosebumps.
It is at this point the soundtrack should be noted, as Sarah McGuinness (a woman, who a quick Google images search should tell you, bears an uncanny resemblance to another Sarah working on this film) creates a perfect blend of familiar pieces from the soundtracks to former Eddie Izzard tours, as well as new material, including the uplifting Mama Can You See Me Now? to accompany the subject’s determined journey.
The soundtrack doesn’t detract from the intimacy of the film – instead, the ‘rock’ nature of some of the pieces perfectly juxtaposes the grandeur and glamorous nature with which Eddie Izzard is synonymous, alongside the poignant and often quite emotional, humble and fallible side of his portrayal in the film.
At times, Believe could do with a little more momentum, as portions of the narrative, such as Eddie’s uncertainty in his material for the Sexie tour and subsequent crises in confidence, can become a little repetitive when shown at intervals throughout the film. The film does, however, build to an emotional ending, but arguably this could be given more time in the narrative, in place of some of the more reverential footage from 2003.
It cannot be denied that Eddie Izzard’s story is an inspirational one, and the film charts his sheer determination with good humour, avoiding the need for over-indulgence in the darker areas of his rise to fame, but pitching them perfectly with poignancy and a sense of the bittersweet. I certainly came out of the cinema feeling inspired and hopefully many young British comedians, or young people in general, will come away from seeing the film with the same feeling of achievability, as this certainly seems to be the main message at the film’s heart.
A must see for all die-hard Izzard fans and certainly a good starting point for those only just discovering his work.
Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is out now and available to buy from the Den Of Geek Store.
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