Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (2016) Poster

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7/10
After Norman is better
ferguson-61 May 2016
Greetings again from the darkness. Very few people have achieved the level of career success of Norman Lear. Very few people have had the impact on culture as Norman Lear. Very few people have led a life as interesting as Norman Lear. And if all of that somehow doesn't impress you … Norman Lear is 93 years old and still working! It's no wonder that co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady decided to tell his stories.

This is a man who served in WWII and flew 52 combat missions. He also purchased a copy of the U.S. Constitution so that it could tour the country and citizens could see it up close. He is regarded as the most influential TV producer ever. His roster of hit shows includes: All in the Family; Maude; Good Times; The Jeffersons; and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. These weren't just popular or funny shows. They were ground-breaking and controversial … they changed TV and they changed society.

At one point, Mr. Lear was producer on 6 of the Top 10 shows on television. His "Good Times" series was the first to put an African-American family front and center. "Maude" was the first TV show to seriously discuss abortion, while "All in the Family" brought Archie Bunker (the great Carroll O'Connor) and the generation gap with changing societal mores right into our living rooms.

The film features a great deal of interview time with Mr. Lear, but also with others who worked with him and/or were influenced by him. The Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner segment is especially poignant, as it's three comedy trailblazers who made such a difference in how we are entertained. At one point, Lear states "I never lost my childlike view of the world", and he says that contributed to always having a fresh approach.

Frances Lear, the feminist activist, is the perfect life partner for Norman, and the film captures their magic. They make such an impressive team committed to their causes, yet still maintaining a solid marriage. In fact, a documentary focusing on Frances would also be quite interesting.

In the world of television programming, there is BN (Before Norman) and AN (After Norman), and the timeline is not only obvious, but also important. Norman says he worked to deliver "serious people comedy … we had something on our mind". The proof of his influence is that he was able to inspire TV viewers to further discuss and consider the issues he found important.
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7/10
Engaging, illuminating, a little arty, and nostalgic
dloft5929 June 2016
Norman Lear can honestly claim to have made the U.S. a better place, both apart from and through his work as a TV producer and writer. Directors Grady and Ewing have put together a creditable biographical documentary that serves as a solid introduction to the man, an overview of his work, and the influence he's had on U.S. culture.

Though there are excerpts from some of his most famous shows -- from "All in the Family" through "Maude," "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," and "Fernwood 2 Night" (though no mention of "Sanford and Son," curiously) -- as well as recent comments and archival interview footage from some of the actors (a clip of Carroll O'Connor on a talk show correcting a description of his character as a "lovable bigot" by focusing on the essential unhappiness of the man is especially memorable), the emphasis is on Lear's life as a man and as an entertainment professional.

We learn about the effects of his father's conviction and imprisonment for selling fake bonds when Norman was 9, the Second World War (in which Lear served as a radio operator on a B-17 bomber), the influence of his second wife Frances in pushing for women's rights, how his overwork and the collapse of that marriage led to Lear stepping away from TV production and founding the nonprofit People for the American Way to battle the so-called Moral Majority. There's a third marriage, more children, some home video footage of the family in recent decades.

The filmmakers expend a fair amount of footage on a sound stage, showing a (presumably) 9-year-old version of Lear being affected by Father Coughlan's racist radio speeches and other events in the real man's life. (An earlier IMDb reviewer has referred to Lear purchasing a copy of the Constitution, but it was the Declaration of Independence.) Archival footage of Jerry Falwell and other televangelists of that era will make one both grateful they're gone and apprehensive about recent counterparts. Just being alive, kicking, and alert as Lear is at 93 is cause for celebration.

Whether you were a fan of his shows or not, this documentary will certainly arouse memories of the times, and the undeniable effect that Lear's work had upon them.
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9/10
A Man for All Seasons
dcarsonhagy9 December 2016
There is nothing here that could "spoil" anyone for anybody! "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You" is an absolutely mesmerizing look at the greatest writer for American television. His sitcoms are legend: "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "Good Times," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," "Maude," and "Fernwood Tonight," (just to name a few) turned the American audience on its head when it came to television. Topics which were once taboo, i.e. bigotry, racism, women's wrights, abortion, and gay issues, Mr. Lear wrote about it. The fascinating part, however, is how he got to where he is.

Growing up in Connecticut and having to become man of the house at the ripe (young) age of 9 because he father was arrested for a bond scam, Mr. Lear learned that laughter is indeed the best medicine. Along the way, he took his lumps and came out for the better. It was also great to know that he did not turn away from a fight. Targeted by Richard Nixon, Jerry Falwell and his "moral majority," and even the average Joes, Mr. Lear is someone who led by example.

Highly recommended. Not rated, but does contain language and adult situations.
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8/10
A Pretty Darn Good Version of Norman
richard-196725 July 2016
This film can be - and has been - criticized for being too much of a puff piece, too much "old news," and not sufficiently insightful into the meaning of Norman Lear's life. But for those who know him and his work - both artistic and political - well enough but not intimately, this is a great overview of Lear and his accomplishments.

Still fully intact both physically and mentally at 93, Lear has much to offer through his own interviews, and ANY movie that simply catalogs his career would be worth seeing. From early Martin-Lewis writer through All in the Family and Maude through his Good Times misstep to his "retirement" from TV and creation of People for the American Way, Lear's career was unparalleled. As Jon Stewart and others put it in the film, there was TV Before Norman and After Norman.

But this documentary does more. The skill of the filmmakers is obvious, and they leave their imprint - and Lear's famous and unusual hat - throughout this enjoyable film. While it's respectful and loving, it's not worshipful. There's focus on his absence as a father and husband, his difficult relationship with his own father, and the Good Times cast's serious concerns about racial stereotyping. The directors chose excellent clips from the most important shows, including the Maude abortion episodes and some truly extraordinary acting from Carol O'Connor as Archie Bunker. One Archie scene, Archie talking to "Meathead" about his own father, is particularly poignant, as we watch Lear watching Archie.

A worthwhile hour and a half with an American icon, still going strong.
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10/10
Don't miss it.
norway_girl29 October 2016
I just watched this excellent film on PBS. Others have commented on the artsy look of it. I think that is what helped me to enjoy it even more. The women who created this have done an excellent job presenting a lifetime of his work and condensing it so that we also get to REALLY know the man. Norman Lear was born three years before my father, and like him a terrific American ... a WWII vet, a man with a social conscience and part of the greatest generation and unlike my Dad, he's still with us and still contributing. My Dad would have loved this program. It's a fitting tribute to one of the great founding fathers of TV. I look forward to reading his biography. This is definitely a "you should watch it" program.
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5/10
A Tribute, Overcooked and Underseasoned
marsanobill17 July 2016
Few who are conversant with the F-bomb-laden television of today, not to mention the 'reality' shows and other cynical, let-it-all-hang-out rubbish,can imagine the Ozzie and Harriet Age of American TV. Well, Google it, sonny, and you'll see to your horrow that the airwaves back in the days were also polluted with the likes of 'Gilligan's Island' and 'My Mother, The Car' and lots of other rubbish too fragrant to mention. Then Norman Lear changed everything, or most of it: seeing a relentlessly politically incorrect BBC comedy series called 'Till Death Do Us Part,'about a crusty old crank at war with everything post-1939, he adapted it for Americans. The result was 'All in the Family,' with Archie Bunker and his wife, Edith/Dingbat, son-in-law, Michael/Meathead, and daughter, Gloria wrangling over Vietnam, feminism, race relations and the like—always with sharp humor to match the passion. Launched in 1971, it was a stunning success; it made clear that television executives, who had always claimed to 'give the public what it wants,' had been talking through their hats.(FCC chairman Newton Minow pithily observed that actually, 'the public wants what it gets.'). Lear went on to create several more of the same stripe, all detailed here, such as 'Maude,' 'The Jeffersons,' 'Good Times' and 'One Day at a Time.' All were all popular and many were running at the same time, but none was of 'All in the Family' quality.(Sample wit: Maude says 'You know what I like about you, Archie?' 'What's that?' says Archie. 'Nothing' says Maude. OK, maybe it was 1970s wit.) In all, it seemed for a space of years that Lear WAS television. OK, but one great problem with this documentary is its emotional tone, which is that of hagiography. It suggests strongly that it is not enough to value and appreciate Lear's signal contributions but that the man himself must be regarded as a kind of secular saint, whom we should worship and be grateful too. And so the documentayr skates rather lightly past the facts of his failed marriages (two out of three), that he was an utter vacancy as husband and father (rather like his own parents), scarcely aware of his children and pushing his second wife toward a suicide attempt and eventual $112 million divorce. There's also a very irritating sound track and the directors' pretentious conceit of dividing the 'chapters' of this tale with stagey bits showing Lear today, at 94, communing via a sort of Vulcan mind-meld with a little boy who represents his youthful self, complete with his trademark hat. Just too-too, no? Yes. Lear at 94 is easily moved to tears by all the love and admiration being showered upon him, and the directors can't get enough of them, apparently unaware that a little heartfelt goes a long way. Here it amounts almost to emotional bullying. The running time is 91 minutes. That's by the clock. My keister protests that it was way longer.
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3/10
Pretty good, but no mention of his film career
babewosental17 July 2016
Actually, that's not completely true. "Cold Turkey," which Lear wrote and directed, and a few films he produced, such as "Divorce American Style" and "The Night They Raided Minsky's," were flashed briefly on screen, for about three seconds. If you look really fast you can see them.

But little or no mention at all of Lear's longtime producing partner, the late, great Bud Yorkin.

This is especially disappointing in light of the fact that Yorkin died last year, which barely made the news. He was not recognized by the Academy, of course... but most people behind the scenes aren't.

If it weren't for Yorkin, there would likely be no "Blade Runner." And Yorkin was a pioneering TV director, brief clips of which are seen in the film... but again, no mention of the man.

Sure, you can always make the argument that EVERYTHING in a person's life can't be included, but come on -- a ten second snippet of an interview is all that remains of a 20-year partnership? And a fifty-year friendship??

This seems extremely odd, and disrespectful.
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6/10
It was just OK, not spectacular.
subxerogravity21 July 2016
I think I was expecting a lot more than what I got. I did learn something new about the man who created the best TV shows in history, but from what I already know, I really did not get anything new.

It's similar to another film that just came out about Brian De Palma. Both movies are a sit down that went over the long history of work by both men. Big difference with the Norman Lear version was he was not alone. He was promoting his book at the time of the doc and the doc had many people come in to kiss his ass and tell him that I would not be here if it was not for you. Not that he does not deserve those lips on his butt cheeks, but I have more respect for the De Palma flick as Brian did it alone and was more entertaining.

I'm sure many people went to see the movie because of the TV shows Lear has done and which I'm far more insightful on than I was with De Palma's work as it turns out, but De Palma, in his flick gave cooler behind the lens stories about some of his movies. Personal things told in a way that would not make a Wikipedia Page. This is what the Lear film lacks. That may have had a lot to do with the fact as Lear states in his film, he tried and made it with very little struggle in- between.

Should I have not expected that? No, I should have. I was thinking Lear was going to sit there and tell us a story about how Carroll O'Connor did The Hucklebuck before every All in the Family rehearsal for gook luck. They're was a lot of backstage footage from shows like Good times and the Jeffersons that was cool to watch but gave me nothing more than what I could read about the show.

The best moments of the film were clips from the shows he created. I mean as a showcase of his work it does work well. We see why people like Amy Poehler, Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham show up to pay respect (Hip hop mogul, Russell Simmons also shows up as a odd Representative for The Jeffersons, considering his only connection to the show is watching it on TV)

And of course, it was most insightful about Lear's political focus and his personal life. It's a showcase of an energetic man in his 90s and that hands down is impressive. The guy was having children until he was eighty and seems to still have the prep in his step, and there was that moment in the film where he was hanging out with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks and you realizes these guys are still working in their 90s! That's crazy.

I was also expecting more info on all of Lear's shows (as De Palma had something to say about each and every movie he made from mainstream to the most obscure). I know he produce shows all the way to the late 80s, but they only talked about the core success of All in the Family, Good Times, Maude and the Jeffersons (One Day at a Time was also a ground breaking show that was on the air around the same time but I guess was not as successful or iconic)

Instead the movie covered Lear's founding of People For the American Way which fought to separate religion and politics.

It was a good movie, I did learn something about the personal life of Norman Lear that I never knew (his relationship with his father and his first wife), as for his career, It was absolutely nothing I did not already know in the slightest. It was not even a different angle to what I already knew.

http://cinemagardens.com/?p=64
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