Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018)

MORGAN NEVILLE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.  USA, 2018.  .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , Morgan Neville.  Music by .  Film Editing by , .  

For the thirty-odd years that entered the homes, lives and hearts of children, he held them in his sway thanks to his sweet gentle fables, heartfelt songs and kindly meted out life lessons.  His success could not be more surprising in retrospect, his show’s low production values and emphasis on slowly paced sequences that avoided overwhelming excitement something that should have bored young people, not to mention his own buttoned up appearance.  With the passing years and the maintenance of his popularity, it has become ever more apparent that Mr. Rogers had a sincerity, to which this film pays beautiful tribute, and a genuine interest in his viewers that made children connect so deeply with him.  You might think that making a documentary on this man would be inspired by the need to reveal some hitherto unknown dark secret, but the testimony provided by friends, family and co-workers affirms the long-held suspicion that Mr. Rogers was everything you ever wanted him to be, a man who believed that love and connection are at the core of making anything happen in this world, and that his docile and generous manner was completely in sync with the way he lived his real life.  His interest in child psychology and commitment to social justices are certainly scrutinized for the contradictions they sometimes contained, such as his co-star  helping Mr. Rogers break barriers by their putting their bare feet in the same pool, all the while Clemmons’ being gay was something that, unsurprisingly for that era, had to be kept quiet.  The true conflict is a continuing one between the Neighbourhood’s philosophy and the world’s (and the media’s) rejection of it:  Rogers was inspired to make his program because he disliked television being used as a tool for mindless entertainment when it provided such great opportunity for education.  With children’s entertainment becoming more destructive to attention spans and geared towards consumption, the beautiful memory of a man who celebrated listening and silence and who told everyone that they mattered feels rare and precious now.  Director Morgan Neville makes sure to give us a strong sense of Rogers’ timeline, his early days doing The Children’s Corner on WQED in Pittsburgh, his appearance before the Supreme Court pleading for the government to fund PBS which solidified him as a national sensation and the years of the Neighbourhood (with a break to try his hand at a show for adults in the mid-seventies) which lasted until his retirement in 2000 (before being asked to come back and speak to the nation about 9/11 a year later).  There is a treasure chest of sweet and touching moments to be cherished, but few are as magnificent as the sequence in the Supreme Court, watching as Senator John Pastore visibly falls in love with this man while listening to him read the lyrics of his song into the microphone for all to hear.

 

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