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Long before O'Reilly and Beck, Morton Downey, Jr., was tearing up the talk-show format with his divisive populism. Between the fistfights, rabid audience, and Mort's cigarette smoke always "in your face," The Morton Downey Jr. Show was billed as "3-D television," "rock and roll without the music." Évocateur meditates on the hysteria that ended the '80s and ultimately its most notorious agitator. Written by
Before reality television allowed just about anybody to say just about anything in front of just about any audience AND before polarizing radio/television personalities such as Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Maher and Sean Hannity proved there is an audience that craves shock-talk when it involves putting-down and insulting others, the world had one person who did this on a regular basis and who was actually different than all who followed as he was an honest, equal-opportunity offender who spoke his mind and was not earning tens of millions of dollars from corporate sponsors by manipulating those dumber than himself to believe everything he said. Yes, sorry, but if the shoe fits one's left OR right foot ... wear it.
Morton Downey Jr. was a foul-mouthed, bug-eyed, chain-smoking hothead who had hoped to follow in his father's footsteps as a crooner; but as the intelligent man's talent wasn't in music he found a place for himself on television as a host of a short-lived yet notorious and controversial talk show that bore his name -- The Morton Downey, Jr. Show -- that aired in syndication from 1987 to 1989.
It was called "3-D television" by some because of the numerous quasi-violent outbursts -- flinging chairs! fistfights! shouting matches! -- that occurred on the show between the verbally volatile frequent and not-so-frequent guests such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Gloria Allred, Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, Curtis Sliwa, Allen Dershowitz and some (ignorant) random klansmen. His show was also described as "rock and roll without the music" because of its attitude, pacing and aggressive format. Downey Jr. was "in your face" and rarely apologized and always had an opinion which turned off plenty of viewers although it revolutionized the television format/genre. It could be compared to Jerry Springer; but Downey Jr. emphasized politics and race and hot-button issues and did not openly embrace trashy topics like promiscuous married bed-hoppers or naughty male nurses or stripper mothers. He believed his show was important.
Downey Jr. had a very quick rise to his infamous fame but also had a very fast fall as a stunt of his backfired and he lost much support. Evocateur is at its best when it showcases the man's career rise and fall but also provides a bit of touching, human reality by including the man's late health scare and battle with lung cancer (he claimed to have smoked upwards of 3 packs a day at the height of his career and he openly chronicled much of his early cancer battle with various television audiences). The doc falters a bit when it mentions his late-life love story with his third wife that wasn't necessary for the film but perhaps the filmmakers wanted to show he had a heart and was capable of loving another.
His show aired in the late 80's and I remember it being on and hearing some of his more shocking claims ... that probably are not as shocking to an audience today as they once were. Evocatuer is an adequate tribute to a man who did revolutionize television even if the man never knew to what extent.
Without doubt, he did take things too far but he did speak his mind openly and honestly which is more than can be said about so many that have followed him and are doing so for larger paychecks (as it has become ALL about the $).
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