Wednesday, June 28, 2017

If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017)

If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017)
"__________ is still alive?!" 

Just fill in the blank with the name of a very elderly actor, actress or entertainer and this is a question I hear on a regular basis. As someone who has an interest in classic movies and 20th century culture and entertainment, I cherish the fact that some of my favorites are living legends. It makes me happy to see so many of them in their 90s and 100s thriving and in many cases still working. It pains me when people relegate the status of old people as useless or simply close to death. People fear growing old and dying so when they see an elderly person their defenses go up and they lash out. It's my belief that we should respect and treasure the elderly. They bear the wisdom of the decades and we have much to learn from them about living life.

This is why it is so important that everyone watch HBO's new documentary If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017). This doc explores several figures both in and out of the entertainment industry who are living life to the fullest in their 90s or 100s. The documentary follows legendary comedian Carl Reiner, 95, with the help of his nephew George Shapiro, as he seeks out the stories of those who are thriving in their advanced years. The title of the documentary is inspired by this often repeated quote:

"Every morning before having breakfast, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I'm listed. If I'm not, I have my breakfast." - Carl Reiner


Carl Reiner, George Shapiro, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear
Carl Reiner, George Shapiro, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear

Many familiar faces can be found in the documentary. Tony Bennett who recently turned 90 serenades us with a song. Reiner chats with long-time friends producer/comedian Mel Brooks, 90 and TV producer Norman Lear, 93. Their casual chats produce some of the best moments in the film. Reiner has a hilarious conversation with Betty White about age, having purpose in life and sexuality. At 94 she says, "I don't want to be a burden to anybody. Except possibly Robert Redford." Dick Van Dyke, 90 never lost his goofiness or energy over the years. There are numerous scenes with him in the documentary including sit down chat with Reiner but we also see him heading to Capitol Records to record songs with his wife Arlene, at a Barnes & Noble for the launch of his book Keep Moving (I've reviewed it here) and dancing around and being jovial out and about and in his home.

Carl Reiner and Betty White, If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017)
Carl Reiner and Betty White

Comic book creator Stan Lee shares his life's story as well as some insights on what his life his like at the age of 90. All of these figures are healthy and thriving. This gets Reiner thinking about people who are at an advanced age yet are suffering from poor health. He visits Kirk Douglas, 99 at the time of filming, who is still dealing with the aftermath of his stroke. They have a honest chat about death. Reiner shares the story of his wife Estelle's passing and Douglas relates the story of his mother's passing. Douglas' mother told him, "don't be scared. It happens to everyone."

Then there are the discoveries. Those wonderful figures who grace this documentary and charm us with their wit, wisdom and joie de vivre. Moments spent watching them were my favorites. There are a few you might of heard of including fashion icon Iris Apfel, 94 who is the figure of a fantastic documentary Iris (2014) directed by Albert Maysles. Then there is singer/actress Patricia Morison who at the age of 101 still enjoys singing, delights us with her joy and tantalizes us with a scandalous story about Yul Brynner. I fell head over heels for a few of these discoveries. There is Stan Harper, the world's greatest harmonica player. He was Reiner's old army buddy and can be seen at the age of 14 in One-Third a Nation (1939). Fyvush Finkel, 92 a Yiddish comedian and singer who lives to perform. He quipped "as soon as I get on that stage I have all the energy in the world." Lounge pianist and music composer Irving Fields, who wrote Latin infused songs including A Latin from Manhattan, won my heart. I feel head over heels for his passion for music and his drive to keep doing what he loves to do. Unfortunately all three of these have since passed away.

Irving Fields
Irving Fields

Others who will inspire you include centenarian athlete Ida Keeling, pianist Harriet Thompson, 93, yogi and tango dancer Tao Porchon-Lynch, 97, portrait artist Ray Olivere, 91 and singer Alan Bergman, 90. I particularly loved the segment with Jim "Pee Wee" Martin, 95, who was in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during WWII. We see footage of him sky diving at the age of 94. His interview was one of my favorites because of his frankness. He lived a life where he cherished simplicity and hard work. Martin reflects, "the age part is nothing. I don't feel any different today than when I was 25 years old."

There are lots of great bits of wisdom throughout the documentary. Here are some highlights:

"Life is the main gift that we have. And as long as you're here eat it up." 
Patricia Morrison

"There are two words we don't understand the importance of: over and next. When something is over its over. And then comes next." 
Norman Lear

"I do it my way. I'm not interested in being current."
Iris Apfel

"People are scared to death of age. Don't fear it. Meet it head on."
"New experiences are the only thing that you can collect in life that end up being worth it."
Dick Van Dyke

 "Don't lose your curiosity." 
Ray Olivere

"I go on and on because I love what I do."
Irving Fields 

"Being old is like a whole new adventure. You can't describe it to young people."
Stan Lee

"You gotta be the boss of your body."
Ida Keeling

So what is the secret of longevity? There are many answers that Reiner as well as longevity expert Dan Buettner share in the documentary. These include: Have a social life. Be optimistic about your future. Have a purpose for every day. Be physically fit and enjoy life. Then there are those elements that are genetic or pure luck like being cognitively aware at an advanced age, avoiding fatal accidents and overall good health.

If there's one thing I hope to get across to people, its that they absolutely need to watch If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017). I could review it as a straight documentary and find its flaws. But the importance of its message and wonderful stories of beautiful lives that it shares overshadows everything else. I fell in love with this documentary and the people in it. I hope you do too.

If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017) is currently available on HBO GO and HBO Now. I hope it gets a DVD/Blu-Ray release in the near future. I'll definitely be picking up a copy. And to my TCMFF friends, you'll delight in seeing our bud Jeff from Larry Edmunds Bookshop who makes a cameo in the documentary.

*All ages listed reflect the correct age at the time of filming.


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