Stevie is a documentary that demands your attention. Besides the fact that it is 145 minute in length and focuses on a man who isn't easy to associate with - much less like - it has a lot to say about human conflict and compassion.
The documentary is made by (Steven James who was half of the team who brought us Hoop Dreams) and like that documentary this one follows the difficult life of people whom we would call 'regular people' (although that's a loaded term). In this case James comes back to visit Stevie; a disturbed underprivileged (some would say white trash) man whom he was a 'big brother' to in a mentoring program in a small backwoods community in Illinois back in the 1980's.
At first James went back to visit in 1995 to do a short subject documentary. But on subsequent visits, over the next couple of years, he found out that Stevie was accused of the very serious crime involving sexually abusing his young niece. James decided then that he had good documentary material and felt that at the very least he could again be a big brother to Stevie. So he continued to visit up for a few more years and each time he brought a camera crew along.
In the process the film reveals many blunt confrontations between Stevie and his family and his fiancé. What is apparent is that Stevie is unbalanced and rash and even though he has a sense of humor his whole persona is hard edged and unpleasant. Part of the reason is because Stevie grew up an abused child who was shuffle around from foster homes to child detention centers.
James captures a lot of family fighting and tensions that at times are so thick it makes the audience sweat. And what we learn from the documentary is a whole psychological and social makeup of Stevie. We get an inside look into his world and in time we learn enough about his abused life that - even if don't we empathize with him as much as James does – we do unquestionably feel a certain fascination with how he will end up.
Tough but fair, heartbreaking but honest Stevie is a documentary worth seeing even though there is always that niggling feeling that the film verges on exploitation.
How does it look?
The documentary is shot in super 16mm and has a grainy look throughout. Most of the film has natural light. It is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic wide screen.
How does it sound?
It audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital. The voice-overs can be heard just fine although most of the documentary has 1:1 live sound, which occasionally is hard to hear. But that is inherent in the documentary format. The sound quality on the DVD is good.
What Extras are there?
The only real extra is a commentary track by Steve James and camera operators /producers Dana Kupper and Gordon Quinn and sound designer Adam Singer. The commentary is good when they tell us about the vicissitudes of shooting documentaries, all the production that went into this particular one and the very nature of documentaries. When they talk about Stevie and other incidents that went on during the shoot it adds a little bit of information but not much more than you can gather from watching the film. There are also two trailers; one for Stevie and one for The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Stevie is an affective documentary that – if you can stay with it for its 145 minute running time – is hard to shake. The DVD extras are modest but it's easy to see that it would be difficult to add much more right now. No doubt in a few years Stevie's life will have another chapter.