This original TCM documentary by film historian and author Richard Schickel is a well documented tale of a child actor coming of age before our very eyes, transforming into filmmaker and ultimately auteur, as acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard recounts his remarkable career from child star to Academy Award-winning director.
Ron Howard is a well-known and highly accomplished filmmaker with an impressive list of childhood acting credits comparable to very few (“The Music Man”, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, “The Andy Griffith Show”). So, it’s not surprising that Schickel wisely chose to let his subject do his work for him and have Howard, an experienced storyteller, present his own story in his own words, acting as both host and narrator.
Naturally, Howard is very comfortable talking about himself while in front of the camera. Many a gifted director has lacked the ability to be both self referential and comfortable (Kubrick: too introverted, Hitchcock: too much bravado). The man is completely void of pretense and exudes a casual intimacy that reaches across the screen, almost as if he had personally invited you over for coffee and the story of his life. Howard’s unmannered style and ease of presence draws the viewer in and guides them effortlessly through the timeline of an impressive professional life with a warmth and friendliness that immediately charms and captivates.
By words alone it would be so easy to envy the man, however, Howard possesses a graciousness that provokes only praise and admiration. After all, as often as he seemed to have the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, he also demonstrated the talent to reap advantages from every golden opportunity.
Likewise, there is a similar ease in his words when speaking about his craft. Nothing is ever forced, events unfold naturally, and whether he is talking about his childhood years working mostly in television in front of the lens or his adult years working on the other side of the camera as a feature film director, the story is always an entertaining one, presented with just the right touch of the director’s trademark balance of reverence and sentimentality.
All in all, there is nothing terribly fresh or original about Richard Schickel’s latest biographical look at a modern American director (“Eastwood on Eastwood”, “Scorsese on Scorsese”, “Spielberg on Spielberg”). In fact, taken out of context the piece could be seen as little more than an opportunity for Ron Howard to promote his latest release, “Frost/Nixon”. But, who caresr Ron Howard is truly a notable artist who now celebrates a remarkable fifty years in the industry. It would be a shame for such a milestone to go by without the proper fanfare befitting the accomplishments of such a renaissance talent.
The hour and a half documentary will be followed by a three-film tribute that includes Howard’s admirable directorial debut, “Grand Theft Auto”, his impressively crafted and Oscar winning, “A Beautiful Mind”, and the acclaimed director’s adorable acting debut at age three in “The Journey”.
“Ron Howard: 50 Years in Film” premieres on Turner Classic Movies at 8PM Eastern on Monday, December 29.Rating: B+