Anthony Bourdain turned the culture of food into America’s Greatest Modern Literature. He was a rock and roll poet of food, writing for the people in the back of the kitchen, in a manner that would also be deeply respected by the intelligentsia. The best American voices write like they discovered literature for the first time. The best American writers have the ear of the people and make our dialect and way of being accessible to everyone. Anthony Bourdain was our greatest presenter of America. The way we perceive ourselves. The way we must learn to perceive ourselves outwardly, the responsibility of our projection onto other cultures. Anthony Bourdain was our idealized version of ourselves: the aspirational American.
Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) is the most profound communal experience I’ve ever had in a theater. It was pure therapy. Our entire theater cried together. There were as many boxes of tissues out as bags of popcorn. It was the most connected I’ve ever felt with an audience. After the film ended, the person next to me turned and said, “Now I know we’ll all be okay.” For one brief, incredible moment, a large group shared a movie and a moment together, it became bigger than the largeness of the screen.
Morgan Neville’s Roadrunner is the most profound experience I’ve ever had watching a film on a laptop. I cried the entire movie, this time. I cried alone until my wife joined me for the second half and also cried. I’ve read all of Anthony Bourdain’s books and have watched all of his shows. I have a vested interest. I see so much of myself. I see the addict that needs help and continues to place their addiction into new areas once they’ve given up the drugs. I see all of my friends I have lost to addiction. I see a lifetime of pain and agony, my blood steaming with anger, that Anthony Bourdain is gone. That my friends have gone. That we do not get to experience the full lives of some of the best people. No, this was not just a wondrous journey into television celebrity and all the perks of a life well lived. This film fucking hurt.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”Anthony Bourdain, The Nasty Bits (2006)
The documentary is the kind that changes you. We get to go on a journey. It is not Tony’s journey. It is our experience of Tony. If we are lucky enough and have lived hard enough and long enough, it is a joruney of ourselves. A meditation on what we have left behind. Neville has crafted a clear reflection not only of a person and his career but the breadth of human experience through travel. Not only does the film encapsulate the most literal travel, our movement from place to place, but our movement through time, through stages, a progression through life and time, articulated with the wisdom and grace of Anthony Bourdain.
It started with an oyster in France. Bourdain tasted perfection at an early age and spent the rest of his life chasing that high. It lead to a remarkable career. Kitchen Confidential (2000) was everything the culinary-curious reader wanted to know about how kitchens worked and nobody was saying. Bourdain’s television shows were a messy antidote. They were the solution to the detritus of travel cooking shows and personality-driven television chefs. When everyone else presented lies, Bourdain told us the truth. He spoke to his own authentic experience of people and the food they make. His work was consistently hilarious, insightful, and often, cutting. There is no further antidote to losing all of that.
Roadrunner hurts. Roadrunner will always hurt. It will not process our grief for Anthony Bourdain for us. Everyone interviewed in the film seems to be hurting, too. With Fred Rogers, Neville documented the perpetual American neighbor. In that film, we experienced the heart of the country internally, through the great life of one man who shared all of himself, so that we could learn. With Anthony Bourdain, Neville turns his eye to the American traveler. Roadrunner is a document about our external selves. It’s everything we hope we can be. It changes us, because we have all been travelers of some kind. The important thing is that we go through the journey. We’re going to live and hurt anyway and Bourdain made sure it was all for something.
“There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.”Fred Rogers