Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Fred Rogers and Hollywood's Planned Cinematic Tribute

When we hear such awful stories like those women held prisoner for years in a house in Cleveland, which is one of many we've heard about, that, along with Steve Harper and his cronies' antics on Parliament Hill, can give you a really low opinion of humanity.

With that in mind, it is gratifying to see Hollywood plan to celebrate someone who was truly good in seemingly every way, Fred Rogers, with a biopic film about him. After all, when right wing neanderthals  like Fred Phelps and Fox News loathe a man of such love and humane principles as Rogers, then you know he has earned the right to be considered an American saint of Television.  Just that famous quote now about we should "look at the helpers" is enough to give strength to people in the face of tragedy is a glorious tribute to his goodness.
It's funny how a guy like that with only a decades long TV series could created such a sweet alternative to the frenetic "bombardment"  created by lesser minds in the medium.  Furthermore, it's especially gratifying to know that the CBC helped get the ball rolling starting the show's first incarnation, which inspired his assistant, Ernie Coombs, to do the same in Canada as Mr. Dressup. Heck, just knowing that he both liked both Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live parody, "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" and Night of the Living Dead, which was inspired by a spot on his show about going to the dentist, says a lot what an open minded man he was.

Does he look like Rogers to you?
With all that being said, I've always thought that it is a great acting challenge to portray a good, wholesome man than a flawed one since the former can bore the audience if there is minimal internal conflict. In that regard, Christopher Reeve and Chris Evans managed to pull that thespian trick off as Superman and Captain America respectively and a Rogers biopic will demand similar skill.  To that end, I always like to default to an unknown actor since he could depict the man without the presupposition of any screen presence of an established star.  However, given the whole Hollywood fixation about stars, selecting one is inevitable. Obviously, another suggestion, Steve Carrel, is out; casting a comedian like would undercut the drama. I would go for Ed Norton, he has roughly the same build of Rogers and his roles can have the same feel of charm and dramatic gravity.

For a major test, I am certain that Norton could do a dramatization of this classic moment when Rogers charmed a crusty US Senator to save the Corporation of Public Broadcasting's public funding in 1969. Only a man with a gentle presence and eloquence could do what Rogers did with persuasion and a song and only an actor of such quiet skill like Norton could recreate it. 

As it is a no-brainer to have this as a major scene in the film, then it should be a deciding factor and I bet an actor who played a white trash neo-nazi in American History X would relish this kind of different role. I just hope that the film will include the Canadian role in this story and give it it's proper due.

Until then, we can also know that Rogers' legacy lives on with his production company now producing a sequel animated series, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, which endeavors to recreate the original series charm for new generations. For myself, I welcome that effort and I hope it can help new generations of children that Rogers devoted his life to.

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