Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (2012)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 2012.  Dramatic Forces.  Screenplay by Dori Berinstein, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by Dori Berinstein.  Music by .  Film Editing by Adam Zucker.  Dorian Awards 2011.  

She conquered Broadway when she originated the role of Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, then made herself immortal with the lead in Hello, Dolly, still one of the longest-running shows in history and one that she played in thousands of performances in New York and on tour. Carol Channing is the consummate performer, having conquered show business and, now in her nineties, still thrilled to be performing for her many adoring fans.  This valentine of a documentary is loving but not soft, offering comprehensive coverage of a superstar who seems to have left nothing but adoring fans in her wake but also giving a good look at the hard work she has put into her career.  Her early years in San Francisco, her unhappy marriage to Charles Lowe and her success on stage and screen are covered with style and flair as colleagues and fans are interviewed and give their perspective on the dazzle that she still provides for them.  There are clips of her television appearances and even a brief foray into her film career, which never matched her achievements on Broadway and television (she was too “larger than life” for film, we are told, though her role in Thoroughly Modern Millie did bring her an Oscar nomination).  The stock footage is as pleasurable as the current stuff:  watching her stroll by Broadway theatres, treating cast members of a show who are taking a break on the sidewalk like old friends is delightful, Debbie Reynolds reduced to tears in talking about Channing’s love life incredibly moving.  There is glaring information missing which keeps it from being complete, her marriages before Lowe not so significant but the omission of her son much more notable.  It’s likely he chose not to participate in the project (and her own admission that show business does not mix well with motherhood is probably an indicator of why), but it’s an unfortunate blank even in a film whose focus is and should be on her work.  It’s a great time even for someone who has never heard of Channing, but fans will definitely be in heaven.

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