Down From the Shelf ~ Carol Channing: Larger than Life

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary on Broadway legend Carol Channing.

Stars: Carol Channing and a plethora of stars from stage and screen

Director: Dori Berinstein

Rated: PG

Running Length: 87 mins

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  The phrase “national treasure” is thrown around maybe a bit too much in our present entertainment climate.  Mickey Rooney and Betty White are obvious choices to headline the list but I don’t think anyone would object to 91 year old Carol Channing holding her own right near the top.  Documenting the lives of our most reliable, memorable, and infamous stars from the Golden Age is nothing revolutionary but a new documentary about the life of Carol Channing is one of the more winning peeks behind the stage door. 

By now, Channing has to be one of the most parodied celebrities on par with Cher, Liza, and Judy Garland and it’s true that Channing’s big eyes and unique voice are fairly easy to mimic no matter how many times you’ve seen her.  Throughout the film we see the evolution of Channing from young girl who seemed to have an invisible bond to the stage to the saucer eyed and kooky star that most of us will remember her as. 

What struck me about the film was how Channing hit the ground running with a determination most up and comers would envy.  Director Berinstein lets the facts do the talking as we move through school years to the eventual long running Broadway pro she is famous for being.  That she did it all with making very few enemies is a rare feat considering the entertainment system she was working with.

Without much adversity, though, the film paints the picture that everything was sunshine and roses which most know is not the case.  Her tumultuous marriage to her third husband (who pretty much robbed her blind before kicking the bucket) is only fleetingly touched upon as is her relationship with her son.  From Channing’s own words it’s clear that the mother/son waters were rough and may still but that’s all the information we get on the subject.

Still…the film doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with negativity but instead focuses on the woman behind Dolly Levi, Lorelei Lee, and her Oscar nominated turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie.  A cavalcade of stars is interviewed and their words/musings are a chorus of lavish love for Channing.  Speaking of love, at the heart of the movie is the relationship between Channing and her fourth husband…who also happens to have been her first boyfriend.  Though separated for years by work, marriages, and war…the story of how they found each other again stirs the heart in the best possible way. 

As far as documentaries go, this is a fairly light affair.  Its short running length belies the monumental career Channing has had.  As Channing goes through her closet and pulls out familiar costumes from her roster of work there is never a sense of regret or sadness at shows/parts/loves gone by.  No, she seems to be thankful all over again that she’s lived the life she has doing what she loves.  That we all should be so lucky (and spry) at her age, right?

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