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Tribeca Review: 'Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic' Leaves Out Insight

Thompson on Hollywood By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood April 25, 2013 at 1:39AM

It is perplexing to understand how a documentary about someone as funny, alive, honest, edgy, and brilliant as Richard Pryor can fall so flat. Marina Zenovich’s documentary on the comedian, "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic," premiering at Tribeca, testifies to the comedian's humor and brilliantly dark view of the world around him. But "Omit the Logic" doesn’t show the audience anything new or insightful about him.
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Richard Pryor

How can a documentary about someone as funny, alive, honest, edgy, and brilliant as Richard Pryor can fall so flat? Marina Zenovich’s documentary on the comedian, "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic," premiering at Tribeca, testifies to the comedian's humor and brilliantly dark view of the world around him. But "Omit the Logic" doesn’t show the audience anything new or insightful about him. There was magic to Pryor, but we don't see enough of Pryor being Pryor. 

Sure, comedians from Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Chappelle, Lily Tomlin to Mel Brooks admire Pryor’s prodigious talent. But their observations are pat, their character testimonies not perceptive. They don't seem to have enough space to flesh out their ideas about the man. 

Comedian David Banks says, "Don't try to find no logic, a lot of this you hear, logic is omitted." This statement provides the title of Zenovich’s documentary--and perhaps an admission of a copout. There's no need for logic, but there is for more delving, insight and inquiry.

In terms of Pryor’s biography, the documentary shows his tragic background but stays on the surface, failing to dig deep. His grandmother was a matriarch of a bordello, where Pryor grew up. That environment provided Pryor with fodder for unbelievable stories and an ability to make a joke out of a tragic or traumatic situation. We hear that Pryor's background allowed him to laugh at anything, but we don't see him struggling with this. 

There is a clip, in which Pryor says: "I don't know what it was that made me that way, I could laugh at anything, nothing was too sad that some humor that could not be found in it." But other than this admission, we see little of Pryor coping with his hardships. 

What "Omit the Logic" covers well is how Pryor's magnetic humor was at odds with entertainment standards. An agent, who "discovered" Pryor at the Cafe a Go Go in New York, said his first thought was that "this guy is going to be a major star if I can get him to put two sentences together without fuck, motherfucker, cunt."

This article is related to: Tribeca Film Institute, Tribeca Film Festival, Tribeca, Documentary, Documentaries, Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.