Comedy may be subjective, but I know at least one thing to be true. Eddie Izzard is a comic genius. He is also an Action Transvestite. If you are familiar with his work, then you need no further explanation. If you don't know him, his stand-up performances in Dress to Kill and Glorious serve as wonderful starting points to appreciate his brand of intelligent insanity. Believe is a bit different as far as Izzard releases go. Rather than being a performance piece, it's a loose documentary covering the man's life. Although not terribly edgy in its approach, Believe paints a sensitive portrait of the man behind the eye-shadow and reveals a side of the artist that his fans don't typically get to see.
Believe starts with a compelling hook that serves as a framing device while providing structure to the entire piece. In 2000, Eddie Izzard was accused of committing 'fraud' by re-using comedy bits during his stand-up performances. Although the allegations were patently ridiculous in nature, they had quite the adverse effect on Izzard leading him to quit comedy altogether. After being on hiatus for a few years, he decided to return to his audience and his craft. Believe documents his return to the stage in 2003 before culminating in a series of massive performances at Wembley Arena playing to a crowd of 44,000 people. If that were all Believe gave us, it would be a serviceable promotional piece dressed up as an underdog story. Fortunately, it has much more in store for us. Intercut with sequences of Izzard preparing for his tour, we get interviews with Izzard's friends and family while charting his progression from a wee lad through his early schooling all the way to his days as a street performer before hitting his stride as a stand-up comedian. It's a compelling story as the past informs the present while giving us a perspective on the kind of grief that can drive a man to make the whole world laugh.
Born in Yemen to a father who was an accountant for British Petroleum and a mother who was a nurse, Izzard had a few happy years in his early childhood before his mother grew gravely ill and passed away. This was the turning point that would color the rest of his life even though there was no way a little boy could know that at the time. Faced with the prospect of raising two boys by himself, Izzard's father sent Eddie and his brother to boarding school in Eastbourne. There he would get his first taste of performing for others as he would put on shows for his friends. By the time he was 16, he had decided that he wanted to be an actor. This realization led to the next stage of his life in which he would frantically look for any available venue to entertain a crowd of people. From choosing his college based on the resident sketch comedy troupe to scrounging his way into the Edinborough Fringe Festival, we get a clear sense of Eddie's determination and tenacity. By the time we see Izzard take to becoming a street performer, it's apparent that he is far past the point of no return. From then on, it's just a matter of time as Izzard pounds the pavement for gigs in comedy clubs while coming to grips with his identity as a comic who also looks fetching in ladies clothing. As we follow him through his first shows, it is abundantly clear that Izzard's climb to his present position has been an arduous one and that all of his success is well deserved.
Dates and places may give Believe its lyrics but the melody for this piece comes from the revealing interviews with Izzard himself. As the interviewer, Sarah Townsend, is Eddie's ex-girlfriend, we sometimes get the sense that Eddie is saying things that he may not have told a complete stranger. We follow him as he returns to his childhood home and wistfully talks about memories of his mother. It's tough watching a man who is normally a ball of energy, sitting frozen by the idea of a childhood that was seemingly stolen from him. In fact, much of Eddie's motivation stems from the absence of his mother. When he says, "Everything I do in life is trying to get her back" we are faced with the sobering realization that some wounds never heal and try as we might, some things can never be replaced.
If I have made Believe sound too serious or self-important I assure you that's not the case. We are treated to a number of smaller interviews with Eddie's co-stars and friends over the years including the always charming George Clooney and Robin Williams. We also get to see Izzard, the comic, in action as he tries out new bits on unassuming audiences in order to gauge their response to the material's effectiveness. Watching Izzard develop his material is often as much fun as the material itself. He belongs to the Python school of smart silliness and this comes across in his performances which are theatrical yet slightly surreal. Even though the Wembley performance was released separately (reviewed here ), it is fascinating watching him prepare for it. In fact, if I have any complaints about Believe, it's that I would have gladly trimmed some of the saggy mid-section to give us a little more exposure to him working on his process. Although I suppose, much like a magician, the trick is told when the trick is sold.
I received a screener copy for review so I can't be certain of the Video quality until an official copy is obtained. For what it's worth, the image on the screener was relatively clear given the sheer number and quality of the disparate sources involved. We have a variety of digital artifacts scattered throughout the older material but nothing that would prevent you from enjoying the release. The newer material is reasonably clean if a little visually flat.
I received a screener copy for review so I can't be certain of the Audio quality until an official copy is obtained. For what it's worth, the English audio was presented in a 2.0 Stereo mix. The mix was adequate for the material at hand. There didn't appear to be any Subtitles.
I received a screener copy for review so I can't be certain of the quality of the Extras until an official copy is obtained. For what it's worth, the screener didn't feature any extras at all.
For fans of Eddie Izzard, Believe is a revealing look at the man behind the makeup. We gain a newfound appreciation for the forces that drive Eddie and compel him to perform. Admittedly, folks who are unfamiliar with his performances probably shouldn't start here. This is clearly intended for the fans and on those terms it works quite nicely. Hopefully the final release will have a reasonable audio / video presentation that at least matches my screener in quality. A nice set of extras would also be highly desirable. As it stands, this release is Recommended.