Believe: Eddie Izzard Story

Sunday, 21 November 2010 12:44

“Believe” is a documentary that tries to peel away the layers of the enigma that is Eddie Izzard, celebrated stand-up comic, actor, marathon runner and transvestite. Covering events from Eddie’s childhood up to his “Sexie” tour in 2003, the film features a blend of home movie footage, interviews with friends, colleagues, teachers and family, classic clips from his famous shows and revealing behind-the-scenes show footage.

Fans that followed Eddie’s epic 43-marathon challenge in 2009 on behalf of Sport Relief, and the companion BBC series Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man will be familiar with some of the themes raised. Overshadowing his entire life and career is the premature loss of his mother, Dorothy Ella, when he was just six years old. Since then he has strived to find his calling and the journey, though fascinating, has evidently been far from easy.

Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story comes to DVDFlashing between his life story and the ongoing preparation for his big new ‘comeback’ show, the documentary is blessed with the wealth of video material Izzard has accumulated over the years. Home movie clips go as far back as his childhood in the 1960s, capturing intimate moments with both of his parents that talking heads could only hint at.

Eddie was born whilst his father worked for BP in South Yemen, and a new post in Bangor, Northern Ireland required the family to relocate a year later. In 1967 they moved again to Skewen in South Wales, where his mother sadly passed away. This event triggered the dispatch of Eddie and his brother Mark to a boarding school in Eastbourne.

Izzard’s nomadic formative years set him in good stead for the rock-and-roll lifestyle of a world-renowned comic, and the “Sexie” tour would see him traversing the globe to please audiences in their thousands. Eddie studied for a year at Sheffield University but his obsession with performing meant he got kicked out, and his focus turned to making it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

A massive fan of The Goon Show and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Eddie and his street show buddies put on whacky entertainment that more often than not went down like a lead balloon, but not without reviewers recognising occasional flashes of brilliance that hinted at what was to come.

Izzard’s personality comes through loud and clear in this film. He has always been driven, determined, stubborn, thick-skinned, prone to risk taking and courageous. For years his attempts to become a successful entertainer were met with critical derision and placed him in financial jeopardy, but he refused point blank to give up. He realised early on that exposure of any kind was a way to get his foot in the door, and eventually his big break came when he performed his famous three minute “Wolves” sketch at the “Hysteria 3” charity show in 1991.

Ironically, Stephen Fry and other Cambridge Footlights alumni were on the same billing; Eddie had been enviously following their careers since they went down a storm at the Edinburgh Fringe - in contrast to him! Coincidentally, when I watched this DVD yesterday, Eddie appeared on the comedy panel show Q.I. which is hosted by none-other than Stephen Fry.

A succession of barnstorming shows followed soon afterwards, including “Unrepeatable” (1994), “Definite Article” (1996), “Glorious” (1997), “Dress to Kill” (1999), “Circle” (2002) and then “Sexie” in 2003. Even when he had become a massive success, Izzard refused to sit on his laurels, delivering gigs in French and breaking into the tough US market. The film also touches briefly on his success as an actor in Hollywood.

His astronomic rise was momentarily thwarted when the British TV show Watchdog reported that Eddie’s latest show was merely recycling old material and ripping customers off. As he says on the DVD, he never denied his process, which was to take material over from his previous tour to the next, gradually replacing old content with new gags as it progressed.

The Watchdog scandal was enough to dent his confidence, though, and force him to take a new approach with the “Sexie” tour, and on the DVD we see him presenting rough and ready new material to test audiences in preparation for the start of the tour proper.

All told, this is a fascinating insight into an unusual and mesmerising personality. Ex-girlfriend Sarah Townsend does a fantastic job of splicing the footage together, managing to balance the pathos of his mother’s tragic death and early struggles to succeed with the hysterically funny taster clips from his hit shows, and honest reflections of his family, friends and associates. These include George Clooney, with whom he starred in “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen”, and Robin Williams, who helped him succeed as a stand-up in the USA.

I heartily recommend the DVD to fans, and my only criticism would be that it does not cover more recent events such as his mega-marathon challenge (besides a few still photos during the closing credits) or his most recent show “Stripped”. Perhaps there will be a “Part 2” in the not too distant future?

The DVD features some gems amongst its special features, including a wild staged sword fight and some bizarre deleted alternative titles featuring Izzard’s teddy bears. The full breakdown is as follows:

  • Commentary
  • Bleeped Audio Track
  • Teddy Theatre
  • The Photograph
  • Vince Henderson Interview
  • WWII: The Sequel Promos
  • The Amazing Captain Keano Wolves Sketch
  • The Eddie & Rob Street Show

“Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story” (2009) is out now, courtesy of 2|Entertain. The feature’s running time is 103 minutes approx, has a certificate ‘15’, and retails for £19.99 or you can get it for less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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