(CNN) — Feelings about Anthony Bourdain are no less raw, nearly four years after his shocking death.
Director Morgan Neville’s poignant documentary chronicles Bourdain’s trajectory from New York chef to celebrated author to beloved globe-trotting TV personality, and tries to shed some light on the mystery of his 2018 suicide at age 61.
“I feel like his death was such an unexpected thing to the public, that there’s just like this cultural rip in the paper for people,” Neville said.
“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” from HBO Max and CNN Films and released by Focus Features, examines the brash culinary traveler’s passions and inner struggles and combs through his final months with deeply personal recollections from Bourdain’s friends and family.
Within seconds of the opening of Roadrunner, a new documentary from the Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom,Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), the writer, chef, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain is already talking about death.
Sitting at a table with an unseen companion, he says that he has no investment in what happens to his remains after he is gone, except insofar as it might provide “entertainment value” for his body to be, say, fed into a woodchipper and sprayed around the London department store Harrods at rush hour.
Given that Bourdain died by suicide in 2018 during the filming of an episode of his CNN show Parts Unknown in Alsace, France, this mordant joke takes on extra-gruesome meaning—and as a montage later on in the movie shows, it was far from the only time he cracked wise on camera about his own death.
In its mix of playful irreverence and punk-rock attitude, the put-me-in-a-woodchipper-at-Harrods line is pure Bourdain, an example of the way he could charm, seduce, shock, and amuse all at the same time.
The new four-part series by Raoul Peck, “Exterminate All the Brutes,” that’s streaming on HBO Max belongs to an exceptional genre: it is, in effect, an illustrated lecture, or a cinematic podcast.
Which is to say that it’s an essay-film, a film of ideas, that are for the most part expressed by Peck himself, in his own voice-over, which nearly fills the movie’s soundtrack from start to finish.
The four-hour film is in the vein of Peck’s previous essay-film, “I Am Not Your Negro,” which focuses on James Baldwin’s work. “Exterminate All the Brutes” is similarly an intellectual effort.
And, like “I Am Not Your Negro,” it introduces and distills, from Peck’s own perspective, extant writings, this time by three historians who study colonialism and racism. Unlike the earlier film, though, the new one doesn’t offer much in the way of film clips from the writers themselves, and doesn’t (at least, doesn’t claim to) quote directly from their work. It is literally a film in Peck’s voice, and that strength, and that audacity, also gives rise to its artistic peculiarities.
Editor’s Note: Books and images from Hemingway’s life and works are shown in the PBS Exhibition. It’s done in conjunction with the new Burns’ documentary, “Hemingway.”
Corporate funding for HEMINGWAY was provided by Bank of America. Major funding was provided by the Annenberg Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and by ‘The Better Angels Society,’ and its members John & Leslie McQuown, the Elizabeth Ruth Wallace Living Trust, John & Catherine Debs, The Fullerton Family Charitable Trust, the Kissick Family Foundation, Gail M. Elden, Gilchrist & Amy Berg, Robert & Beverly Grappone, Mauree Jane & Mark Perry; and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.