Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story

Rightly or wrongly, there are those directors, actors, and artists from the Golden Age of Hollywood who are often obscure today and known only to devoted classic film buffs. They may have been critically acclaimed in their time. They may have even received Oscar nominations or even Oscar wins. Regardless, today their names are not recognized by the general public. Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story, written and directed by Scott Fivelson, centres on a fictional example of such an individual. Oskar Knight was a critically acclaimed director, one who holds the record for having been nominated for the Academy Award more times than any other director in history. Famous in his day, Oskar Knight is now only known to students of classic film.

Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story brings to mind such mockumentaries as All You Need is Cash (1979) and This is Spinal Tap (1984), while at the same time evoking such movies dealing with Old Hollywood as Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Artist (2011). It follows Oskar Knight from his childhood in Germany to his early days in Hollywood to his rise to the top of the directing profession. Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story goes into some detail on the ups and downs of his career, including Oskar Knight's frustration at endless Oscar snubs, despite being nominated multiple times. The film not only touches upon his career, but upon Oskar Knight's personal life as well. His days as a Hollywood bon vivant, his marriage, and his son Oskar Knight, Jr.'s substance abuse problems are all covered in the movie.

What separates Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story from similar films is just how convincing it is. When one watches This is Spinal Tap, one is perfectly aware that Spinal Tap is a fictional creation, but when one watches Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story, one can almost believe there actually was a director named Oskar Knight. Much of this is due to the fact that it uses real-life Hollywood personages to discuss Oskar Knight as both a director and a person. Classic film buffs will recognize Margaret O'Brien (famous for Meet Me in St. Louis and The Secret Garden), the late Noel Neill (forever Lois Lane from the Superman serials and the TV series Adventures of Superman), and Jon Provost (best known as Timmy on Lassie). Among the rest of the cast are other readily recognizable names, such as Kristina Anapau of the TV series True Blood and the movie Black Swan (2010); Randall Batinkoff of the TV series Christy and the movie Higher Learning (1995); Julian Flynn from the movie Wasp Network (2019); Julianna Guill of the TV series The Resident; Rudolf Martin of the movie Swordfish (2001) and Ford v. Ferrari (2019); Lawrence Pressman of the movie The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971) and the TV series Doogie Howser, M.D.; and Sir David Suchet of Agatha Christie's Poirot. Not only does Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story feature real-life Hollywood personages discussing the director, but all of their performances are sincere. Even when their discussions of Oskar Knight are tinged with humour (it is, after all, a comedy), one can honestly believe Oskar Knight actually existed.

Oskar sitting and laughing with Gary Cooper.
Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story 
is made all the more convincing in featuring photos of Hollywood legends into which Oskar has been inserted, further giving the illusion that Oskar Knight was an actual, respected director who hobnobbed with the Hollywood elite. As if this wasn't enough, we also get clips from his movies, from the screwball comedy Heaven to Betsy to his critically maligned epic Oskar Knight’s Moby Dick, not to mention Oskar's home movies and personal photos.

Of course, at the heart of Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story is Oskar Knight himself. As Oskar Knight, the great Lenny Von Dohlen doesn't have a lot of lines, but his performance still makes the viewer feel as if they know Mr. Knight. Lenny Von Dohlen was such a talent that he could relay the thoughts and feelings of his characters with little more than his facial expressions and body language. This is no less true of his performance as Oskar Knight, which stands out as one of his best performances in a career filled with great performances. The film's other lead, Alex Bell as Oskar Knight, Jr., also gives a bravura performance. Oskar Knight, Jr. is the child of Hollywood one sometimes hears about, the son of a famous and acclaimed director who falls victim to substance abuse. As Oskar Knight, Jr., Alex Bell is responsible for much of the humour in the film, while at the same time insuring Oskar Knight, Jr. remains a sympathetic figure in the movie. Lenny Von Dohlen and Alex Bell both make Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story, already a fun film to watch, all the more enjoyable.

Lenny Von Dohlen as a young Oskar Knight
Without a doubt, Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story would not work without Scott Fivelson's superior script and expert direction. Scott Fivelson has written a film that is at times very funny, but at the same time treats its subject with respect and even poignancy. It is because Oskar Knight is so well conceived that one can be convinced that he is real. Scott Fivelson's direction makes the best use of his diverse ensemble, improving upon performances that were already great to begin with.

Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story had a successful run on the film festival circuit. At the 2016 Hollywood Independent Film Festival Scott Fivelson won the Breakthrough Director Spotlight Award. At the 2017 Vancouver Filmdance Festival he won the award for Best Director. At the 2016 Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Jay Gillespie won the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Young Val in the film. At the 2016 Garden State Film Festival, Ted Reedy won the award for Best Song from a Feature Documentary.

Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story
 will be coming out later this year. It is my firm hope that it also receives a theatrical release. After all, it is a film about cinema, so I think it really should be seen in a cinema.

Oskar Knight watching Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Myrna Loy.
Beyond everything else, Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story is a love letter to Old Hollywood. It is a loving ode to every director, actor, or other artist who never got their due, who never won an Oscar or took a lifetime to win one – you’ll have to see the film to find out if Oskar ever did – and today remain obscure, even though they deserved better. In that respect, Oskar Knight is something of an everyman, a stand-in for all those great directors and actors long overlooked by the general public. While I believe everyone will enjoy Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story, I can see it being loved best by classic film fans, who will know all too well there is a good deal of truth to Oskar Knight's story. Indeed, I think Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story could be destined to be a classic itself.

1 comment:

Evil Woman Blues said...

Hey Terrence. I scoured the internet and searched all of my esoteric movie sites and nothing. Very odd. I hope it is released in DVD or streaming by December