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Holes in My Shoes

Other // Unrated // November 24, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Nick Hartel | posted January 30, 2010 | E-mail the Author
THE PROGRAM

Documentaries focusing on one specific person can often be a mixed bag. Often, the end product is a 40-minute rush job fit for an episode of "Biography" on A&E. As a result, I tend to avoid these types of programs. However, after seeing a clip of 94-year old Jack Beers tearing a telephone book in half, my curiosity was sent through the roof and I was extremely excited to check out "Holes in My Shoes" a documentary chronicling Jack's very fascinating life.

Fortunately, "Holes in My Shoes" rushes nothing, clocking in at 90-minutes. There's no director interference, aside from a brief introduction proclaiming his admiration for Jack and why he made the film, the director David Wachs remains a passive observer, instead leaving Jack himself to tell his story form childhood to present day. It's an entirely first hand account, supplemented at times by thoughts and stories from those close to Jack. Unfortunately, with all this freedom and Jack's infectious enthusiasm, the end product borders on being a mess.

It's a tremendous shame, because to the casual observer, Jack will come off as a rambling old man, when in fact, he displays a mental sharpness as strong as his impressive physical condition. Things start off relatively well, with Jack recounting his life in New York City, visiting the areas where he grew up in, including an apartment similar to the one shared by his family. It's not long before we get Jack showing why he's such a fascinating man and deserving of a documentary, as he challenges a very bulky bodybuilder (who obviously knows Jack) to try and pull him over. The bodybuilder is unsuccessful and with that, the focus is shifted to his days as a teenage strongman with the physique of someone ten years older. It's here where signs arise that more structuring from the director could have been handy.

When Jack is given free reign to recount his stories with tremendous detail and clarity, his enthusiasm is so great that he begins to speak a mile a minute, leaving viewers quickly in the dust, trying to take in all the details of his stories. The documentary could have used some tighter editing (Wachs also edited in addition to directing), even if it meant cutting some of quantity of Jack's stories down. The film follows this trend almost until the final 20 minutes. One would think his life as a teenage strongman would be a life defining achievement on it's own, but Jack is not the kind of guy to rest on his laurels. Throughout the documentary, in the same fast paced method of recollection, Jack discusses his work on the construction of Radio City Music Hall and building the spire on the Empire State Building.

Things slow down a bit when it comes to Jack's career in the movies, mostly as a bit player, but it's still not a perfect presentation. Luckily, the sheer good nature of Jack and his love for life make the overall experience bearable. Ironically, the one time Jack is able to tell one of his detailed memories at a pace that audiences can follow easily is when he recounts the death of his beloved wife. It's a brief segment in the life of this man, but obviously one of his most vivid memories. Despite all his seemingly superhuman accomplishments, Jack shows in his heart he's just like us, when he reads from a very frank letter he wrote to his wife after her death openly admitting his thoughts of suicide and struggle to understand his place in the world.

I don't know whether to chalk it up solely to my anticipation of seeing this program, or whether the fault lies on the shoulders of Wachs, but "Holes in My Shoes" was a minor letdown. My hat goes off to Wachs though for letting Jack have the opportunity to look back on a life well lived. Even through the shaky presentation, Jack honestly inspired me and reminded me to be proud of doing the things that I find happiness in; a simple, clich├ęd, but honest and successful way of looking at life.




THE DVD

The Video

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation shows all the telltale signs of being shot on digital video. There are moments where detail is much higher than expected, but for the most part, things fall into the middle ground. A great use of archival footage is utilized to supplement Jack's narration, none of which looks awful. The modern day segments all exhibit some edge enhancement and varying levels of digital noise, which is most evident in scenes with a lower level of lighting.

The Audio

The English 2.0 audio track is perfectly acceptable, although could have used a bit more attention to balance as elevations in the volume of voices end up inconsistent at times. Overall, being a dialogue driven documentary, one couldn't ask for much more.

The Extras

None.

Final Thoughts

"Holes in My Shoes" is not a great documentary by any means. It's very conventional in format, only daring in its willingness to let it's subject have free reign to tell his story. It's the definition of a diamond in the rough; the story of Jack's life, told first hand is a rare treat, it just needed a bit more polish in the presentation. Jack is five stars in my book, which makes me a bit sad I can't say the same for this documentary. Recommended.

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