The Big Little Screen

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

An (almost) honest, soulful, and heady concoction that will shake you to the core.

Neville’s film beautifully peels away the shiny exterior of a man who was a true hero to many, and whose story and subsequent career in television became a refuge for millions.

It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind.

Anthony Bourdain

Let’s just address the elephant in the room upfront and get that bit out of the way, rather than have it loom over me as I continue to write this piece.

There’s been a huge hue and cry about certain sections of the documentary – 45 seconds to be precise – where the director has taken the liberty of feeding some of Anthony Bourdain’s words into an algorithm and arriving at an A.I. reconstruction (yes, that’s a euphemism for deepfake) of his voice.

Had I not mentioned this, you wouldn’t really be able to tell. Go on, watch the documentary. Trust me. I couldn’t make out even though I was aware of the veritable shitstorm that was about to go down. Which undoubtedly may have catapulted the film into an unwanted sphere of moral and ethical infamy. Tsk tsk!

Did Morgan Neville do a crappy thing by using A.I. to deepfake Bourdain’s voice? Kinda. Did he do so without the express permission of Bourdain’s family and friends? Maybe. Does that make the documentary a whole lot less appealing? HELL NO! I went into this to learn more about Bourdain’s life rather than focus on some absolutely “unethical” thing a director may or may not have done. Guys. Don’t let social media side-track you.

But who am I to judge? I really should take notes while watching things. I mean, I do. But they’re just words that describe feelings – which I’ve realised I’m pretty darn bad at. Turns out Helen Rosner is way better than me in that department. She’s written a fantastic piece over at The New Yorker – The Ethics of a Deepfake Anthony Bourdain voice – and elaborately and eloquently lays down “How we should feel about it.”

But hey! Don’t go clicking on that link just yet! Read the full review for crying out loud, watch the documentary and then if you find the time, circle back. That’s the natural progression of things, the circle of life – please tell me you’ve seen The Lion King – you know the drill.

Photo Courtesy: Focus Features

I have a certain affinity for documentaries. Who am I kidding?! I LOVE them! Even more so if they focus on people in general.

There’s a certain sheen and allure, especially since the narratives are intimate, powerful and relatable. When it comes to food though, there’s sadly a plethora of content that focusses solely on frivolous cooking routines. ‘Roadrunner’ ain’t one of those.

For that you’ve got Masterchef! – but to be honest I love it as much as you do!

Chefs are inherent raconteurs. Their food may taste great, may look even better, and they may have their Michelin Stars, but in the end, we’re all human and we really love a good story. And for any creative out there, you can learn a whole lot more from people who don’t belong to your profession. The final products may vary drastically, but the struggles and the processes (to an extent) are largely the same.

My tryst with the late chef, was largely superficial and from a distance. I always saw him as a quirky yet affable character who travelled halfway across the globe to eat a cobra’s beating-heart. Yeah you read that right!

But that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Oops. Wrong piece of ice.

Neville paints a hard-hitting, riveting and masterful journey chronicling the life of the celebrity chef, renowned author, globetrotter and storyteller extraordinaire – who was always on the move, a true romantic, and to my absolute delight, was also a huge admirer of the Tintin series.

Anthony Bourdain was the common man’s hero – inspiring millions to live their lives to the fullest. A shy, awkward introvert who exploded onto the scene and taught himself to become this larger-than-life persona for the camera. The Tony – as he was affectionately called – on screen, was different to the Tony off screen. Drifting and oscillating between the two realities and sometimes struggling to find meaning in any of it.

Photo Courtesy: Focus Features

Sifting through a treasure trove of content that’s been unearthed by digging through hours of archival footage that has not seen the light of day, ‘Roadrunner’ resplendently explores the many shades of grey. Along with all the hope and vivacity, it does not shy away from the darkness and complexity of a man who was dearly loved and revered. A man with a tragic inner core who was driven but extremely sensitive and insecure.

Here was a man who started visiting places not for the delicatessen but for everything other than that. A man who lived his life unapologetically, on his own terms. Starting out by leading a life of his favourite comic book character; an explorer who through his experiences became an altruist, yet not being content. Battling his demons in search of something that was enough – something that could make him whole.  

But for Tony, the fear was real. It could all vanish in a matter of seconds.

There exist phases where one can completely empathise with Bourdain’s lack of connection, a feeling of loneliness and a never-ending quest to lead an authentic and happy life – in the truest sense of the words. And in some ways, the film is a cathartic release for not only those who grew to idolise the man, but also for those who experience and long for those very things.

If The Lonely City by Olivia Laing captures the essence of loneliness through the written word, ‘Roadrunner’ epitomises the feeling through its structure, narrative and visuals – the liminal spaces that exist, over the course of our lives, on this strange rock we call home.

Photo Courtesy: Focus Features

Neville’s film beautifully peels away the shiny exterior of a man who was a true hero to many, and whose story and subsequent career in television became a refuge for millions. With the tragic and sudden loss, a deluge of grief and outpouring of love was felt across the globe – a rare moment in time, considering how fractured and strained our relations are these days.

I don’t think words will ever be able to express how I felt after watching the film, but all I can say is that I guess authenticity and vulnerability go hand in hand.

Yeah. I didn’t rip this off from anywhere. I can say that there’s only one other person who has read this line before any of you. And if someone out there ever wants to use that and deepfake my voice, here’s an archive. Be my guest!

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 31: Anthony Bourdain films Parts Unknown Queens in New York, New York on November 11, 2016. (photo by David Scott Holloway / ™ & © 2016 Cable News Network. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.)

Additional Resources


Parts Unknown

Anthony Bourdain – Our Last Full Interview | Fast Company

Exploring the Creative Process

Anderson Cooper’s Tribute to his friend Anthony Bourdain

“In death, as in life, Anthony Bourdain brought us closer together.”

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