Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner makes 'emotional' debut at Tribeca
It was hard not to notice the light rain that started during the final third of Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain during its outdoor June 11 premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, "a downtown fest for a downtown guy," director Morgan Neville told the crowd. We'd come to the part we'd been dreading because even though a lot of the doc shares moments of the Anthony Bourdain we fell in love with — gruff, real, funny, infinitely curious, and full of wonder — the end was already written. And it was just as hard not to think of Bourdain undoubtedly scoffing at something as maudlin and cliché as rain during the downer part of a film about his life.
To make Roadrunner, Neville cobbled together more than 20,000 hours of raw footage from Bourdain's shows (No Reservations, Parts Unknown) — he says his team had access to around 100,000 hours — as well as interviews with some of the chef's closest friends and collaborators, including chefs David Chang and Eric Ripert, his Parts Unknown and No Reservations producer Lydia Tenaglia, longtime agent Kim Witherspoon, and second wife Ottavia Busa, some of whom were in attendance.
Neville never met Bourdain — an advantage, he says, because "there was no subjective take on things" — but felt he "was someone that everyone had really strong feelings about, whether or not they knew him." As a result, he confesses, "we knew we had to not f--- it up." The result is a film that is informed by Bourdain at every turn, from the movies referenced to the music featured, including some by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, a close friend of Bourdain's who also appears in the doc. "We had a master list of every song he ever mentioned," says Neville. "It was 18.5 hours long."
The documentary charts the highs and lows of Bourdain's life — which ended by suicide in 2018 — giving an intimate, new perspective on stories and moments many already know. There are the memories of overcoming heroin addiction, his attempt at being a "normal" dad and husband, the doomed end-of-life affair with Asia Argento, and, perhaps most universally, his grappling with becoming a superstar when he was, by friends' accounts, actually very shy. "When my 15 minutes of fame are over," he says in the film, "I'll be OK with that, if not relieved."
One particularly resonant moment comes when Bourdain and his crew happen to be shooting in Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. With nowhere safe to go, they spend their days by the pool, catching a tan while bombs explode in the distance. "If there's a single metaphor of this whole experience, it's this," he says. "Not very flattering." And if there's a single metaphor for Bourdain's dueling struggle with a lust for life and a kind of self-loathing, it's that.
During the Q&A after the film, Neville admitted that he'd never watched the doc with a crowd and was feeling "very emotional right now." That was true for the audience too, some sitting under umbrellas, others just letting the rain wash over them.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is in theaters July 16.