DVD: ‘Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story’


The next best thing to seeing Eddie Izzard live is catching one of his shows on DVD. The next best thing after that may well be watching this bio-doc tracing his long struggle toward worldwide success and giving us glimpses of the man behind the fishnets but, in the end, not quite as much as we might want. Director Sarah Townsend shows Izzard taking his act round the world (including a stop at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre) and heading toward the ultimate venue for a British artist, Wembley Arena. In between, we learn that Izzard was born in Yemen, where his father worked for British Petroleum; that he has an older brother who’s barely mentioned; that his mother’s death from cancer remains a singular trauma in his life; and that his dad never had a problem with his son dressing up in women’s clothing. The film’s best parts show Izzard’s creative recklessness, his unrelenting drive to the shakiest part of every comic limb he can think of. Early in his career, that riskiness didn’t always resonate with audiences, whether at the famed Edinburgh Festival (where his college sketch group couldn’t hold a candle to the Cambridge Footlights, whose members included Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson) or elsewhere. Later, Izzard flailed around trying to make it as a performer. He was half a comic duo, but perhaps really learned to mine his own comedic terror for laughs as a street performer. After that, daring to book himself a solo gig in London’s West End was almost a piece of cake. A couple of scenes, including one where he is surprised to learn that his mother called him “Edward” instead of “Eddie,” are revealing, but the curtain parts only a bit. That may be frustrating, but we never have time to ponder it too deeply because, a second later, we’re diverted by “the wolf bit” or other features of his hit shows, and that’s enough to stifle any complaints.

Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |

Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story (Review)


Comedy may be subjective, but I know at least one thing to be true. Eddie Izzard is a comic genius. He is also an Action Transvestite. If you are familiar with his work, then you need no further explanation. If you don’t know him, his stand-up performances in Dress to Kill and Glorious serve as wonderful starting points to appreciate his brand of intelligent insanity. Believe is a bit different as far as Izzard releases go. Rather than being a performance piece, it’s a loose documentary covering the man’s life. Although not terribly edgy in its approach, Believe paints a sensitive portrait of the man behind the eye-shadow and reveals a side of the artist that his fans don’t typically get to see.

Believe starts with a compelling hook that serves as a framing device while providing structure to the entire piece. In 2000, Eddie Izzard was accused of committing ‘fraud’ by re-using comedy bits during his stand-up performances. Although the allegations were patently ridiculous in nature, they had quite the adverse effect on Izzard leading him to quit comedy altogether. After being on hiatus for a few years, he decided to return to his audience and his craft. Believe documents his return to the stage in 2003 before culminating in a series of massive performances at Wembley Arena playing to a crowd of 44,000 people. If that were all Believe gave us, it would be a serviceable promotional piece dressed up as an underdog story. Fortunately, it has much more in store for us. Intercut with sequences of Izzard preparing for his tour, we get interviews with Izzard’s friends and family while charting his progression from a wee lad through his early schooling all the way to his days as a street performer before hitting his stride as a stand-up comedian. It’s a compelling story as the past informs the present while giving us a perspective on the kind of grief that can drive a man to make the whole world laugh.

Born in Yemen to a father who was an accountant for British Petroleum and a mother who was a nurse, Izzard had a few happy years in his early childhood before his mother grew gravely ill and passed away. This was the turning point that would color the rest of his life even though there was no way a little boy could know that at the time. Faced with the prospect of raising two boys by himself, Izzard’s father sent Eddie and his brother to boarding school in Eastbourne. There he would get his first taste of performing for others as he would put on shows for his friends. By the time he was 16, he had decided that he wanted to be an actor. This realization led to the next stage of his life in which he would frantically look for any available venue to entertain a crowd of people. From choosing his college based on the resident sketch comedy troupe to scrounging his way into the Edinborough Fringe Festival, we get a clear sense of Eddie’s determination and tenacity. By the time we see Izzard take to becoming a street performer, it’s apparent that he is far past the point of no return. From then on, it’s just a matter of time as Izzard pounds the pavement for gigs in comedy clubs while coming to grips with his identity as a comic who also looks fetching in ladies clothing. As we follow him through his first shows, it is abundantly clear that Izzard’s climb to his present position has been an arduous one and that all of his success is well deserved.

Dates and places may give Believe its lyrics but the melody for this piece comes from the revealing interviews with Izzard himself. As the interviewer, Sarah Townsend, is Eddie’s ex-girlfriend, we sometimes get the sense that Eddie is saying things that he may not have told a complete stranger. We follow him as he returns to his childhood home and wistfully talks about memories of his mother. It’s tough watching a man who is normally a ball of energy, sitting frozen by the idea of a childhood that was seemingly stolen from him. In fact, much of Eddie’s motivation stems from the absence of his mother. When he says, “Everything I do in life is trying to get her back” we are faced with the sobering realization that some wounds never heal and try as we might, some things can never be replaced.

If I have made Believe sound too serious or self-important I assure you that’s not the case. We are treated to a number of smaller interviews with Eddie’s co-stars and friends over the years including the always charming George Clooney and Robin Williams. We also get to see Izzard, the comic, in action as he tries out new bits on unassuming audiences in order to gauge their response to the material’s effectiveness. Watching Izzard develop his material is often as much fun as the material itself. He belongs to the Python school of smart silliness and this comes across in his performances which are theatrical yet slightly surreal. Even though the Wembley performance was released separately (reviewed here ), it is fascinating watching him prepare for it. In fact, if I have any complaints about Believe, it’s that I would have gladly trimmed some of the saggy mid-section to give us a little more exposure to him working on his process. Although I suppose, much like a magician, the trick is told when the trick is sold.


I received a screener copy for review so I can’t be certain of the Video quality until an official copy is obtained. For what it’s worth, the image on the screener was relatively clear given the sheer number and quality of the disparate sources involved. We have a variety of digital artifacts scattered throughout the older material but nothing that would prevent you from enjoying the release. The newer material is reasonably clean if a little visually flat.

I received a screener copy for review so I can’t be certain of the Audio quality until an official copy is obtained. For what it’s worth, the English audio was presented in a 2.0 Stereo mix. The mix was adequate for the material at hand. There didn’t appear to be any Subtitles.

I received a screener copy for review so I can’t be certain of the quality of the Extras until an official copy is obtained. For what it’s worth, the screener didn’t feature any extras at all.

For fans of Eddie Izzard, Believe is a revealing look at the man behind the makeup. We gain a newfound appreciation for the forces that drive Eddie and compel him to perform. Admittedly, folks who are unfamiliar with his performances probably shouldn’t start here. This is clearly intended for the fans and on those terms it works quite nicely. Hopefully the final release will have a reasonable audio / video presentation that at least matches my screener in quality. A nice set of extras would also be highly desirable. As it stands, this release is Recommended.

Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |

DVD Review: Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story


Eddie Izzard stares at you from the back of his DVD case, strong, somewhat menacing in a black t-shirt, his look very don’t-f-with-me, and he’s… wait… what’s that… is that blue nail polish? Eddie Izzard, born in 1962 in Yemen to British parents, is the subject of Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, a documentary that focuses on his return to comedy after a three-year hiatus. Cameras follow him as he works his way through workshops to a comeback tour, which was scheduled to culminate at Wembley Arena in London. The viewer sees the evolution of a show, from inception through production.

In one of the stupidest exposés ever, a British television program claimed that Izzard was committing fraud on the public by including older material in his latest stand-up show. It’s nearly impossible to believe that “the public” in question, who would have been stand-up comedy fans familiar with the practice of integrating new and old material, felt they were being defrauded. It was reported that many of the bits he did in his live show were available on the video of his previous show. So?

Watching a film of a live performance and catching the performance live do not provide the same experience. Fans may see a performer do the exact same act several times and find that there’s no such thing as “exact same”—the performer bringing different nuances and new material, constantly refreshing and refining. What seems like a molehill became a mountain in 2000, and Izzard stopped performing stand-up for three years. He continued acting in films (e.g., Ocean’s 12), television, and on stage, and was often seen on talk shows.

When Izzard was four years old, he would try on his mother’s dresses. When he was a young boy his mother died of cancer and he and his brother Mark were sent to boarding school. Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is interwoven with old photographs and home movies, as well as videos of some of Izzard’s early performances. What we see in this documentary is an affecting story of a young man who worked incredibly hard to become a successful performer. From his early days as a street performer when he did an escape act, rode a unicycle, and did skits with a partner, through his triumphant return to the stage, we learn exactly how grueling a comic’s life can be. If you think that comedians do their time in small, local clubs and work their way up to comedy festivals, big venues, and The Tonight Show, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The amount of labor, time, and money expended to become successful is staggering. But, first, the talent has to be there.


Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |

Izzard still feels pain of mum’s death


A NEW film about the rise of stand-up legend Eddie Izzard will pinpoint his mother’s death in Wales as the moment that drove him to perform.

Culled from exhaustive amounts of the award-winning comic’s archived home video footage, Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story reveals how he turned applause into a substitute for his late mother Dorothy’s affections.

The movie, due out next year, gives a never-seen-before insight into the workings of the enigmatic star’s mind, culminating with Izzard confessing: “Everything I’ve ever done is an attempt to get her back.”

Izzard’s long-term publicist and friend Karon Maskill said the funnyman, who was only six in 1967 when his midwife mum succumbed to cancer while living in Skewen, near Neath, spent nearly a decade helping to slavishly assemble the film. It traces his rise from being the young son of travelling BP worker Harold in Yemen to the global star he is today.

But Karon said it was the family’s time in South Wales that would provide the catalyst for Eddie becoming the man we all know and love.

“Those were very happy days for him but when Dot died it left a huge hole in his life, as you can imagine when a small child loses a parent like that.

“Not only that, but her death also had a devastating effect on the family as a whole because Harold was left looking after both Eddie and his brother which, when you’re on your own in another country and trying to hold down a full-time job, is no easy task.”

The boys were packed off to boarding school in Porthcawl – an experience Eddie hated – before the family moved on again to East Sussex a few years later.

“He went on to study financial management and accountancy at Sheffield University but ended up spending most of his time in the drama department,” explained Karon.

“From then on I don’t think he did any work whatsoever and left the course convinced the stage was for him, having become enamoured with the likes of Monty Python and Fry and Laurie.

“He struggled for years, doing street theatre, attempting stand-up and not being very good,” she added.

“But then in 1991 he did a charity gig in London, way down the bill, and blew everyone away with this rambling sketch about being raised by wolves.

“After that things just went crazy.”

The film comes shortly after Izzard hit the headlines for running 43 marathons in 51 days across the UK for Sport Relief despite not being athletic. He even added miles onto his Herculean feat to pass by his childhood house in Wales.

The funnyman first came up with the idea for the documentary when he returned to Britain after a long spell acting on Broadway in A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.

“He came home and suddenly realised he had no comedy material at all to take on tour, so someone suggested he just go on stage and talk about his childhood,” said Karon.

“So he did, and that got the ball rolling on Believe.

“And, without maybe having realised it before, it slowly dawned on him that the reason he put himself out there like that was because an audience could give him that love back, that feeling that was what was missing from his life which normally he’d have got from his mum.”

She added that Izzard fans would also be in for a treat, the documentary showing exclusive clips of Eddie’s very early routines.

“Oh, there’s great stuff on there, like the act he’d do up in Edinburgh where he’d try getting out of a straitjacket,” said Karon.

“A lot of it is a real reflection of that whole period in the ’80s when alternative comedy was king and stand-up was being heralded as the new rock and roll.”

So, did Eddie always have that unique delivery style of his?

“Yeah, he’s always talked b******s,” joked Karon.

Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |

New York Times Review of “Believe”


Published: October 16, 2009

Several things might strike you as odd about “Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story,” a documentary about the cross-dressing British comedian who increasingly is also a mainstream actor.

One is that the film is framed as a response to what, at least on this side of the Atlantic, seems like a tempest in a teapot, and an ancient one at that: complaints that Mr. Izzard once used some old material in a show billed as “all new.” Another is that this worshipful film is by Sarah Townsend, who, when she appears in it, is identified as “director and former girlfriend.”

But such stuff won’t matter to Mr. Izzard’s many fans, who in “Believe” are given a chance to see an abundance of footage of him before he became famous (and before he publicly wore the fishnets). There are snippets of his early efforts at sketch comedy in the 1980s at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, shots of him as a street performer at Covent Garden in London. And in pretty much all of them, he’s awful.

“It was just incredible,” says André Vincent, who was also playing the streets at the time. “He died so regularly. But, you know, he stuck with it. He went, ‘No, this is what I find funny.’ ”

The guy’s persistence alone will make you an admirer if you’re not already one.

Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |

‘Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story’ goes inside the character and the man

[from the LA Times]

Sarah Townsend’s “Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story” illuminates the life and career of the protean, gender-bending comedian-actor through an astonishing collection of footage. Beginning with home movies from Izzard’s childhood, the film moves through years of performances on the street and in small clubs to a triumphant West End debut, at which time he declared himself a transvestite, to his international acclaim as a stand-up comic and as a stage and screen actor.

This fine documentary, understandably years in the making, commences with Izzard’s humiliating experience in being accused of using old material in a new show and unfolds as he launches a British workshop tour of his 2003 comeback, “Sexie,” as a prelude to a world tour that culminated later that year in London’s vast Wembley Arena, where he played before 44,000 fans over four days. Townsend’s extensive interviews with Izzard backstage and elsewhere frame the performance footage as well as encounters and reminisces with friends, colleagues and fans.

Izzard spent his early childhood in a pleasant Belfast suburb, his happiness cut short by the death of his mother. Later, he was thrown out of Sheffield University because he was so obsessed with performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For years, Izzard was sustained by iron-willed determination.

He is a short, chunky, rugged man, and when he assumes drag he goes for androgyny. It’s a look he finds comfortable, and it also frees him from gender in the wide-ranging commentary that underlies his comic sense of the absurd. His easy, unapologetic acceptance of his onstage transvestism allows his audiences to respond in kind. Only once has he been physically attacked, in a Cambridge street, and he stood his ground in the ensuing fight. Although the film implies that Izzard is heterosexual, it does not delve into his private life. Townsend saves her most poignant moment for near the end, when Izzard, reflecting upon his mother, says, “Everything I do is trying to get her back.”

Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |

LA Weekly Review of “Believe”

Sometimes appearances aren’t deceiving: As a cross-dressing comic and sometimes dramatic actor, Eddie Izzard is just as complex offstage as on. The compelling documentary Believe condenses the comedian’s fascinating life into 105 minutes of interviews, archive material and — most importantly to understanding any performer — several decades of performance footage. Believe, which was directed by Izzard’s ex-girlfriend Sarah Townsend, suffers from the problem inherent in most Hollywood biopics: Smashing a man’s life into a series of “very important moments” creates a schizophrenic tone. Townsend also abbreviates several of Izzard’s early street and standup performances, taking away key elements from her story’s arc — the development of Izzard’s onstage persona. Regardless, Believe contains a good deal of footage thrilling to anyone excited by the backstage and onstage workings of live performance. Izzard also gives several genuinely poignant interviews, saving the best — a reflection on how the loss of his mother influenced his desire to be a comic — for a strong emotional kick to punctuate the proceedings. The best moment, however, is the legendary performance in which Izzard appears for the first time in his trademark dress and pantyhose. This magnificent scene and others like it prove that, as with comedy itself, sometimes great material is enough to overcome merely average presentation. (Sunset 5) (John Wheeler)

Written by Momo in: Believe Reviews |


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