All documentary, by it's nature, is an attempt to make sense of what we lived at the time. Thankfully, "Believe" is something more than your average documentary : it's a historical, and spiritual, deconstruction of Eddie Izzard. Whereas these days, its all yer O2 Arenas and Wembleys and The Tour That Doesnt Tour But Does Tour Really, and little about the art of comedy.
For years, I was pretty much the only person who I knew who remembered Izzards bizarre and now clasic "raised by wolves" sketch. It wasn't comedy, as such, not in the old fashioned world of traditional setup/expectation/confounded punchline, but - as became Izzard's signature style - more of an amused interpretation of our world than anything as conventional as a punchline. Later on, in 1994, I saw Eddie play to a select audience in Stratford, and also take the role of Edward II in Leicester. Over time, he became bigger, more well-known, and is practically royalty - as well as a determined artist who will try everything once, including gigs in French (included here), and almost any acting job going.
"Believe" is a superior doc - Izzard's life, and personality, are dissected and laid bare. Before this, I confess to knowing nothing of his life bar that he grew up in Eastbourne, and his mother died young. Martin Amis has a theory of Early Death Awareness Syndrome, where compulsive artists are driven to success by the early death of their parents. With this shadow in mind, Izzards career is arced from his youngest days to headlining Wembley Arena. The archive footage, obviously sourced from degraded, ancient VHS tapes, shows a man growing into himself and into who he could be.
Perhaps its that the documentary was made by Izzards former partner that allowed such frank and open access : there are moments here one would never really expect to see. Perhaps this documentaries most powerful moment is where Izzard confronts this, reading letters from his mother to his father, and sees a world that he was always too young to understand. "Somehow, maybe, it could bring her back", he states. I make no apologies for the fact that I too, was in floods of tears at this poignant moment, having experienced a similar loss at a young age. Earlier on, Izzard meets two people dressed as bees, and to hear one of them talk of how they survived a major illness and life-threatening operation by reciting Izzard's sketches in their minds is touching, and shows that, maybe without trying, Izzard has become the lifeline through difficult times that all of us have through his own attempts.
All art is an attempt at achieving immortality. "Believe" is a compelling watch even for those with little knowledge or interest in his work, and is successful at being both a psychological study of a man compelled to act as well as a revealing look at the complicated glory of a human being - and all human beings. Recommended.