Tribeca Film Festival Screener #3:
“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” (2021), created by Morgan Neville, fills in the blanks on the enigmatic life and death of the beloved food loving world traveler. He lived the type of life that everyone wanted, to be able to rub elbows with the greatest artists, chefs, and stars (Eric Ripert, David Chang, Iggy Pop, and more all make appearances), eat your way through cities across the planet and to make money while you do it. So, to end his time on earth by suicide, left the world in a state of shock, confusion and pain. Neville uses his project to focus on the unexpected rise of Bourdain (after his ballsy publishing of the tell-all book “Kitchen Confidential”), his upbringing and his eventual demise.
He lived an insatiable life. An ex-heroine addict, Bourdain was a thrill seeker and was completely fearless. Like most addicts, he always had a void he was trying to fill, through experiences, relationships, or any means of tangible satisfaction. When observing a life through the perspective of that kind of unrelenting mania, it is easy to understand how eventually, nothing would be enough. However, the documentary serves to speak of his undeniable impact, but from the stories of those who knew him best, his ex-wife, his long-term producers and crew, his best friends. It also refuses to neither sugarcoat the despair that was evident in his final years nor glamourize celebrity suicide.
No less, this is a very triggering watch for anyone who suffers from depression/anxiety or knows someone who has fallen victim to suicide. Please watch with caution.
It is such a personalized look at such a publicized life, without feeling too exploitative. There was a large focus toward the end on how hurtful he was when dealing with his ever-increasing depression, primarily ignited by his toxic relationship with Asia Argento. It doesn’t blame her for his mental illness and co-dependence, but it certainly recognizes her lack of care or concern for his well-being. One of the most upsetting moments of the documentary was when, like a love-struck kid, Bourdain pushed for her to direct the Hong Kong episode of “Parts Unknown” and he allowed for the integrity and sincerity of the show to be compromised to accommodate her eccentric, artistic whims. He likely would have been ashamed watching those clips back, but as he was also a firm believer in blatant honesty and authenticity, he likely would have also valued the intention of the filmmakers and his friends to avoid glamorizing depression and suicide by showing the embarrassing and painful outcomes of it. It is a complicated story and therefore it will likely result in very complicated feelings from its viewers, but it is a life worth remembering and appreciating for all that it was. He was a complete romantic, and real life just couldn’t live up to that.
As Variety writer, Owen Glieberman articulates: “What emerges is that Bourdain, though he commanded the room and always looked like the star he was (he could hardly walk a New York block without being approached by someone wanting a moment), was also a a “big nerd” whose insecurity was a projection of his judgmental nature: He gazed at the world with scalding eyes, and expected it to scald him back. He was a perfectionist, a junkie hedonist, a creature of strong attitude but weak identity.”
Fun Facts/ Things Learned:
- Bourdain and his crew found themselves in the middle of a war zone when visiting Beirut for the travel show, and their comfortable situation put up at a nicer resort to wait out the bombs showcased the stark dissonance between the privileged and the desperate parts of the world.
It, understandably, did not sit well with Bourdain to capitalize on the loss of so many by making a show for profit, but the networks pressed it, so they did what they could to use the episode to draw attention to the Israel-Lebanon conflict. The show must go on…
- Josh Homme, lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age, was a good friend of Bourdain’s and makes appearances throughout the film, sharing his perspective and experiences. He was also brought on to contribute to the films score.
They bonded proudly over being the fathers of young daughters, and had planned to travel together with them one day.
3. Bourdain was married for 20 years prior to becoming famous after “Kitchen Confidential” was published. They were together for about 30 years. His first wife avoided fame and remains out of the spotlight, so she wasn’t interviewed for the piece, but their were plenty of clips from their time together.
Supposedly, she was the ‘Bad Girl’ in High School & he graduated early to follow her to college (Vasser College in New York; they were from New Jersey). They were married in 1986. In an interview with The New Yorker, he once compared their marriage to a Gus Van Sant film called Drugstore Cowboy. He said they had a “kind of love and codependency and sense of adventure – we were criminals together. A lot of our life was built around that, and happily so.”
They divorced in 2005, due to his extensive travel and their relationship just couldn’t sustain his new lifestyle.
4. Bourdain said he found “color” when he visited Vietnam for the first time, and that was what sparked his enthusiasm for travel (after having a less enjoyable experience on his first trip abroad – to Japan).
His previous boss, Philippe Lajaunie, Brasserie Les Halles owner, came to join him and fell in love just as much. After Bourdain’s passing in 2018, Lajaunie moved to Vietnam to spend his remaining years in the place they both adored.
5. David Choe gives an interview in the documentary where he speaks about their mutual understanding of each other through their separate addictions. They speak of turning sadness into art.
Though, Choe shares Bourdain’s cynicism in earlier conversations, he changes his tune after his passing and was a key advocate towards the end of the film of not glorifying the man because of his death. He even goes as far as defacing one of the murals of his face, claiming that Bourdain would have approved. It is one of the most powerful moments & the ending of the film.
Food and/or Drink Pairing: Of course, whatever meals reminds you most of the beloved chef.