Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Heather Ross, For Madmen Only should be required viewing for anyone who proclaims themself to be a fan of comedy. Telling the story of one of the most iconic and influential figures in all of comedy history, Ross’s documentary is both very entertaining and extremely compelling.
The film offers a biography of comedian Del Close, who served as a mentor for countless well-known comedians and whose ideas changed the field of comedy forever. Although those to whom the movie will most cater to will already likely know much of the information that the film has to present about the way in which society functions, it is nonetheless an important reminder of how a beloved medium got to its current place.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest success is in making the audience admire Close’s creativity. Anyone who has heard the name Del Close before will almost undoubtedly associate it with his comedic genius. However, even those who may not be as familiar with the origins of modern comedy will be impressed by the level of creativity in Close’s art.
Ross moves her film along at a very good pace, and while there are some standard documentary gimmicks sprinkled throughout, they are all done for the sake of giving the movie some additional narrative momentum. That said, the film’s most compelling part is undeniably when it finally starts to talk about Close’s magnum opus, the “Harold”.
The movie features interviews with some of the most recognizable faces in comedy today, some of whom participated in Close’s workshops, and others who were simply inspired by his revolutionary approach to performing. These interviews will go a long way in giving the film a higher profile, as these portions of the movie work very well.
Additionally, the film features reenactments starring comedian James Urbaniak as Close. Unlike many other reenactment-based documentaries, this method does not work to the detriment of the movie because they are rooted in reality. Ross builds these reenactments off of recordings made by Close before he passed.
Of course, the film also contains plenty of archive footage and archive materials featuring the real-life Close. Although it would have been nice to see even more of Close performing, specifically in relation to the “Harold”, the footage that the audience does get to see of the performers acting and rehearsing is entertaining and mind-blowing.
For Madmen Only takes full advantage of its larger-than-life subject to create a documentary that is absolutely captivating. While the movie itself doesn’t reveal much that fans won’t already know, it is still a worthwhile watch.
For Madmen Only was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.