Being Evel

Being Evel ★★★½

For my entire life I have known the name "Evel Knievel". But I never really knew anything specific about him. I knew, vaguely, that he was a daredevil who rode a motorcycle. I knew that he was hot shit during the 1970s. But that was the extent of my knowledge.

So I decided to watch "Being Evel" to better understand who Evel Knievel was and why his name was still famous. "Being Evel" serves as a pretty interesting primer about Knievel and his feats of derring do. It tells the story of his life, from his lawless youth in Butte, Montana to his various con jobs and odd jobs to the moment where he decided to become a legend by jumping a motorcycle over the fountains at Caesar's Palace. I think it's incredible that he didn't even successfully complete this jump, but that it was still enough to make him into a celebrity.

"Being Evel" is remarkably even-handed for a documentary. It features interviews with people who idolize him (especially Johnny Knoxville, whose adoration explains a LOT) but it never makes Knievel out to be a saint...or anything remotely close to it. It never condones or sugar-coats his behavior. In fact, he comes off as a massive asshole most of the time. Even the people who loved him admit that he was a hard man to spend time with. This gives us a pretty complete portrait of the man, warts and all, than most documentaries and I respected the hell out of that. Aside from that, it utilizes a pretty standard documentary format: alternating between interviews and historical footage.

I admire Evel basically deciding to start doing stunts even though he had little experience in such a thing. His celebrity is a testament to the power of chutzpah and ego. It's also a cautionary tale about the way Fame can corrupt a person, feeding their ego to a dangerous degree...especially if that person is kind of a dick to begin with. I will admit, however, that Evel's personality is infectious. I can see why people loved him. I can also see how he brought about his own downfall with his own egocentric swagger, foul temper and self-mythologizing.

There's a lesson to be learned from the life and downfall of Evel Knievel. However, anyone as narcissistic as Knievel would never learn such a lesson. People like Knievel are destined to learn things the hard way...if, that is, they learn them at all.

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