Will Roadrunner be on HBO Max?
“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” is available in theaters on July 16. It will air on CNN and stream on HBO Max later in 2021. Christian Science Monitor‘Roadrunner’ brings Chef Bourdain – and his wanderlust – to the big screen
15 July, 2021 - 01:04pm
Jul. 14 2021, Published 10:49 a.m. ET
To millions of Americans, he was a hero, the rock ‘n’ roll celebrity chef who made food sexy, the must-watch television presenter, and the captivating author whose straight-talking, shoot-from-the-hip style revolutionized the way the restaurant business worked. Away from the kitchen, Anthony Bourdain was in his final years a leading light in the #MeToo movement, speaking out against sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, and accusing several celebrity chefs, as well as Hollywood figures including Quentin Tarantino, of “complicity” in the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
When he died by suicide in June 2018 at age 61, the world reeled, with former President Barack Obama leading the tributes to the man he described as someone who “taught us about food – but more importantly about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.”
But as a new documentary, Roadrunner, celebrating the life of Anthony Bourdain, is set for release on July 16, Radar can reveal that away from the TV cameras and the Presidential praise, the real Anthony Bourdain was a far more complex and troubled figure, who abused his own wealth and influence to silence a serious sexual allegation made by a minor against his partner, actress Asia Argento.
Anthony Bourdain’s death three years ago sent shockwaves across America. The chef had hanged himself in a hotel room in France, where he was filming the latest series of his hit show Parts Unknown, for reasons which even now remain a mystery.
The tributes poured in almost immediately, with fellow celebrity chefs Eric Ripert and Emeril Lagasse describing him as “an exceptional human being” and “a great soul, a mentor, a friend, a father.” Chopped and Queer Eye TV personality Ted Allen tweeted, "Tony Bourdain made the world a smarter, better place," and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio declared, "Tony’s restless spirit will roam the earth in search of justice, truth and a great bowl of noodles.”
The eulogies were not limited to those in the food industry – as well as President Obama’s homage, retired astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted that he used to watch the chef's TV show when he was in space, and that Bourdain “made me feel more connected to the planet, its people and cultures and made my time there more palatable. Model Chrissy Teigen declared him to be "one of my idols,” adding that he was “always standing up for everything right."
In 2019, it was announced that June 25 each year would be “Bourdain Day,” in which people around the world are encouraged to raise a toast to the chef on what would have been his birthday. At the same time, the Culinary Institute of America established a scholarship in Bourdain’s honor.
That Anthony Bourdain had a profound effect on millions of people is inarguable – but was he really a hero who “roamed the earth in search of justice,” an “idol” who was “always standing up for everything right?" Or did his brilliance as a writer, presenter, and TV personality blind us to the demons that haunted him throughout his life... and even led to a betrayal of the very cause he championed?
Part of Bourdain’s charm and extraordinary onscreen magnetism lay in his colorful, controversial persona. The Smithsonian dubbed him “the original rock star” of the culinary world and “the Elvis of bad boy chefs.” He hung out with The Ramones and was friends with Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop, and famously made the playing of Billy Joel or Elton John in any of his kitchens a sacking offense.
Tales of his outrageous behavior have become legendary. Only Bourdain could get away with smoking weed on camera in Uruguay in an episode of Parts Unknown, or naming an entire chapter of his book Medium Raw, “Alan Richman Is a Douchebag,” after a spat with the venerable GQ food critic.
Only Bourdain could tell Alec Baldwin, “You are really too dumb to pour p--s out of a boot” on Twitter or hold forth in an episode of No Reservations about the importance of getting beaten up, declaring, "I happen to believe that everybody in this world, at one point in their life, needs an ass-kicking. It is an enlightening experience getting your ass kicked."
But if Anthony Bourdain made a successful -- and brilliantly compelling -- brand out of his bad behavior, there were other parts of his colorful life that remained less celebrated.
Born into a middle-class family in New York, he rebelled against his comfortable upbringing and by his early teens was already developing a drug habit that, by his own admission, should have killed him.
Addicted to cocaine, LSD, heroin, and crack even as his career in the kitchens of New York progressed, he later described his 20-something self as “selfish, larcenous, druggy, loud, stupid, insensitive and someone you would not want to have known… I would have robbed your medicine cabinet had I been invited to your house,” adding that he would “comb the shag carpet for paint chips in the hope that they were fallen crack bits, smoking them anyway.”
He later successfully kicked his drug addictions – replacing them with a huge appetite for alcohol – but by his early 40s, shortly before the publication of Kitchen Confidential, the book that would make an overnight star of him, he had wasted so much money on drugs that he went to sleep each night “in mortal terror” because his cash flow problems were so severe.
Bourdain could also turn that self-destructive urge onto others. Kitchen Confidential may have been a sensation for shining a light on a side of the restaurant business few had seen before, but it also exposed a culture of bullying and abuse that he was not only a part of but often seemed to revel in.
The same witheringly acerbic wit that he turned on the likes of Alec Baldwin and Alan Richman could all-too-often turn to genuine cruelty… such as the time he said of the young British chef Jamie Oliver – a professed fan of Bourdain – “every time I watch his show I want to go back in time and bully him at school.”
He later admitted that he also wanted to go back in time to apologize to many who worked for him for all the real-life bullying he subjected them to, referring to his own “psychotic rage” towards his staff, and "years (of) being awful to line cooks, abusive to waiters, bullying to dishwashers,” and of “[making] people feel idiots for working hard for you.”
But if Bourdain, to his credit, was honest about his struggles with drug addiction, and even bullying, there remains one episode that has been glossed over in the many tributes since his death – and that he also appeared to, for once, prefer to keep quiet about.
Much of his reputation as a champion of women’s rights and a hero of the #MeToo movement came from his outspoken support in 2017 for those taking a stand against sexual harassment in Hollywood, as well as the restaurant industry.
"In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women," Bourdain wrote in a Medium post. "Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage — as much as I’d like to say so — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them."
That “extraordinary woman” was Asia Argento, the Italian actress, screenwriter, and director, who had begun a relationship with Bourdain some months before she revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. She would later even attack the Cannes Film Festival as Weinstein’s “hunting ground.”
But Bourdain’s solidarity with Argento – and his outspoken support for the campaign against powerful men preying on vulnerable young women – now appears to be based on a sickening double-standard.
In August 2018, two months after Bourdain’s death, Argento became embroiled in another sexual assault scandal. Only this time, she was not the victim, but the alleged assailant. According to revelations by the actor Jimmy Bennett, Argento had plied him with alcohol and engaged in several sex acts with him in a hotel room in California in 2013 – when she was 37, and he just 17, a year under the age of consent in that state.
Argento denied the allegations, although photographs and text messages later emerged showing her topless in bed with Bennett, and admitting to a friend, “I had sex with him it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter.”
What she has not denied, however, was Anthony Bourdain’s role in the affair. Before going public, Bennett had first approached Argento with his allegations – and the celebrity chef had done his best to make the whole business quietly disappear.
“Anthony Bourdain was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect,” she admitted in a statement. “Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately... Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us."
“We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”
Bourdain had arranged to give Bennett $380,000 to keep quiet. It was odd behavior for a man who professed to “stand unwaveringly” with those bravely exposing the older, more powerful figures who had sexually abused them.
Paying off a young man who had apparently been taken advantage of by a woman more than twice his age while still a minor, in order to avoid “possible negative publicity?” Giving him nearly $400,000 “upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions?” It smacks more of the modus operandi of a Weinstein, rather than a supposed champion of #MeToo.
Argento has subsequently retracted her claim that she and Bennett did not have sex, but has now said that he sexually assaulted her, rather than the other way around. She has also said that “any portion of the balance” remaining from the $380,000 hush money will now no longer be paid.
Anthony Bourdain was undoubtedly an extraordinary man. He was a dazzling writer and visionary TV presenter, a revolutionary food critic, and a gifted “people person,” able to get to the heart of different cultures and personalities the world over. He was also a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, rock ‘n’ roll-loving breath of fresh air in an increasingly woke world... but as a figurehead for those victims afraid to speak out against the famous and powerful, it seems Anthony Bourdain, the man who President Obama said, “made us a little less afraid of the unknown,” was more hypocrite than a hero.
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15 July, 2021 - 01:04pm
In 2019, about a year after Bourdain’s death, the documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville began talking to people who had been close to Bourdain: his family, his friends, the producers and crew of his television series. “These were the hardest interviews I’ve ever done, hands down,” he told me. “I was the grief counsellor, who showed up to talk to everybody.” Neville specializes in unknotting the real story from the public narrative (in 2013, he won an Academy Award for the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” about the lives of rock-and-roll backup singers), and his filmography reveals a particular penchant for examining the lives of men who transcend the normal parameters of fame: Johnny Cash, Orson Welles, Mr. Rogers. In “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” which is in theatres on July 16th, Neville uses interviews, archival footage, and a few unlikely tricks to build a devastating argument for Bourdain as both the hero and villain of his own story—your standard-issue broken genius, at once childlike and world-weary, but saved from cliché by the sheer extraordinariness of his character. “You’re probably going to find out about this anyway, so here’s a little preëmptive truth-telling,” Bourdain says, in disembodied voice-over, in the movie’s first few minutes. “There’s no happy ending.”
I recently spoke with Neville about “Roadrunner,” in a conversation that began, via Zoom, when he was at home in Pasadena, California, and concluded in person, a few days later, at the restaurant of a Manhattan hotel, while the film played to an audience of journalists and Academy members in a screening room downstairs. Neville is fifty-three, with close-cropped silver hair and stylishly owlish glasses. He grew up in Southern California, the son of a rare-book dealer, and as a young man worked as a journalist in New York and San Francisco before turning to documentary. “When I’m making a film, I often feel like the instructions are in the box,” he told me. “How I should tell a story is often expressed by the subject: Mr. Rogers should be simple and deep and loving storytelling; Orson Welles should be chaotic and smart storytelling. And this film—Tony—is all about gray.”
“Roadrunner” begins where Bourdain’s life as a public figure begins: it’s 1999, he’s a forty-three-year-old undecorated cook and aspiring writer, and his big break—the bombastic New Yorker essay “Don’t Eat Before Reading This”—has become the basis for a book, “Kitchen Confidential,” that’s about to go off like a star in supernova. We see him head off on his first book tour, encounter early fans, and learn in real time that the book is a best-seller; despite being solidly in middle age, Bourdain fidgets on the cusp of fame with the gawky, awestruck charisma of a teen-ager. When Neville uncovered the footage, which was shot by the photographer Dmitri Kasterine, for a documentary that was never released, it felt like kicking off the lock on a treasure chest. “It’s like the last vestiges of his old life,” Neville said. Bourdain was “given everything he always wanted: money, and a chance to travel, and freedom,” he continued. “Does that find him happiness? Of course, it doesn’t, because happiness doesn’t come from external things.”
According to the film, the possibility of happiness was the question that propelled and consumed Bourdain. “Kitchen Confidential” became a springboard to a television career, which, in turn, led to more book deals, more television shows, more opportunities to keep taking in the world. The cocky, confident, culturally voracious Tony of “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” was, in part, an on-camera construct (“The TV Tony and the real Tony were not exactly the same person. They never could be,” Neville told me. “He played himself on television”), but it was also a veneer covering a fundamental insecurity. “He had impostor syndrome; he always felt like it could all go away. But I think, even more than that, the reason he kept moving was just the hope that the next thing was going to make him happy, or it was going to solve something in his life,” Neville said. “People told me that Tony made best friends one week at a time: he travels, he meets them somewhere and they think they have a new best friend, and then he would never see them again, because he was on to the next place. That sense of momentum, it’s both part of what made him great, and part of what must have been so tough to live with.”
Neville never met Bourdain, which he told me he regrets on a personal level but considers advantageous as a filmmaker. He described his initial talks with Bourdain’s inner circle—his literary agent, his ex-wife, his producers—about the possibility of a film, in 2019. “At the beginning of the conversation, I was saying that what I thought was so important about Tony’s work was that he was dimensionalizing people, that he brings us together and shows the commonalities of the world, blah, blah, blah,” he said. “And they stopped me, at a certain point, to say ‘Yeah, but you have to remember, he could be such an asshole.’ A thing I really came to understand while creating this film is that all the things that were his flaws were also his superpowers. He could be such a fifteen-year-old boy in so many ways. Most people figure out ways to put boundaries in their life, to say, ‘O.K., well, creatively, I can be out there on the edge. But, in my home life, I can’t do this.’ There were no boundaries with him whatsoever.”
One of the most striking moments in the film is a cut. A shot from the “Borneo” episode of “Parts Unknown” shows Bourdain standing in a river that’s been stained red by the blood of a pig he’s just slaughtered with a spear, the water washing around his ankles. In the next shot, we see the stiletto-clad feet of people standing on the red carpet of a Hollywood awards show, and the camera moves to a tuxedo-clad Bourdain squinting against paparazzi flashbulbs. Which is the real work: telling the story, or selling the storytelling? The more famous Bourdain became, the easier it was for him to make the sort of show he wanted to make. But he also struggled with his status as the show’s protagonist and main draw. “He was always his own subject and his own character in everything he did,” Neville said. “It’s hard to know when you’re living the story, or when you’re writing the story.”
Neville told me about a scene that didn’t make the final cut of “Roadrunner,” drawn from behind-the-scenes footage from the Amsterdam episode of “The Layover,” which aired in 2012. “They went to a coffee shop and ate hashish brownies, or whatever. They were filming, they were talking, and then Tony stopped. He didn’t say anything for thirty seconds. Tom [Vitale, Bourdain’s longtime director and producer] went up to him and said, ‘Tony, what’s wrong?’ And he said, ‘Everybody’s looking at me.’ And it’s, like, yeah, because they’re filming you, but it was his paranoia coming out: Everybody’s always staring at me.”
It may be trite to say, of a famous person, that people felt like they knew him; that sense of one-to-one intimacy is arguably inherent to the modern version of celebrity. But Bourdain stood out for his directness, his everyman-ness, the candor with which he acknowledged his own flaws. Neville sees his approachability as something that eventually wore him down: “Everybody would go up to him, and everybody would want to talk to him or buy him a beer. He was always gracious about it, always appreciative. And that’s a burden. I think that was part of his agoraphobia, his feeling of, like, how can you be an observer if everybody’s looking at you?” Still, Neville told me that he doesn’t see his film as a cautionary tale about the costs of Bourdain’s immense fame. “The things he was wrestling with went back long before he was famous, and those things never really changed,” he said.
“Roadrunner” proceeds in a relatively chronological fashion, but the inevitable fact of Bourdain’s death casts a pall from the beginning. The interviews with his friends, family, and colleagues are intimate and often angry. “Some people said they had never talked to anybody about their feelings about Tony, because it’s hard to be given permission to really talk about everything you feel about somebody,” Neville said. “I saw all the stages of grief.” On camera, Bourdain’s loved ones discuss his obsessiveness, his perfectionism, the feverish drive that made him a great writer and a great television star but also a difficult husband and a difficult friend. They gently probe the idea that Bourdain may have been asking for help, or maybe trying to figure out how to begin to ask. His ex-wife Ottavia Busia mentions that Bourdain had started therapy just a short time before he died.
There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.” In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”
Crafting the story—or, at least, a story—of Bourdain’s death raises other ethically murky questions. The final years of his life were defined by his tumultuous relationship with Asia Argento, the Italian actor and filmmaker. In “Roadrunner,” Argento is portrayed as a human intoxicant, with whom Bourdain developed an all-consuming infatuation. His former colleagues and friends recall the disastrous filming of an episode, in Hong Kong, on which Bourdain had installed Argento as director. They describe how she influenced his decision to abruptly sack a longtime colleague, and his devastation when she began to tire of his attentions and romantically pull away. The last thing Bourdain posted to Instagram before his death, his friend and colleague Helen Cho points out, was music from the film “Violent City,” a 1970 poliziottesco about a man seeking revenge on the woman who betrays him. I was surprised to learn that Neville hadn’t attempted to interview Argento for the film. The lead-up to Bourdain’s suicide, he explained, is “like narrative quicksand. People think they want to know more, but you tell them one thing more, and they want to know ten more. And none of those things actually bring you closer to understanding Tony. I realized that it would be a bunch of she said, they said: ‘This happened,’ ‘No, that happened.’ That’s not the film I wanted to make. Somebody else can make a film about his last relationship, the last year of his life.”
Somebody probably will. “Roadrunner” is one of many projects about Bourdain that have been made in the years since his death. “World Travel: An Irreverent Guide,” a hardcover handbook to global restaurants and bars gleaned from Bourdain’s various shows and writings, and co-authored by his longtime collaborator Laurie Woolever, came out in April, and has spent months on the Times best-seller list. This fall, “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography,” also compiled by Woolever, will be published, just a few weeks ahead of a memoir by Bourdain’s friend and director-producer Tom Vitale. “Roadrunner” doesn’t challenge Bourdain’s hero status (Neville admitted to me that he’s been accused before of hagiography), but his film feels different from much of what’s emerged so far. It attempts to tell the story of who Bourdain was and ends up being a movie about what he left behind. “I wanted the film to be cathartic, in a way—not to have good answers, but to at least help people process their feelings,” Neville said. “Because what I saw, sitting down and talking to so many people in his life, is it’s fucking hard to process the loss of somebody like that. It was happening while I was doing the interviews, it’s been happening while I’ve been making the film, and it will keep happening for years.”