Documentary: T.V. Junkie (2006)
An impromptu watch this past week, I laid eyes on the extremely engrossing, unexpectedly heart-wrenching documentary, T.V. Junkie (2006) from directors Michael Cain and Matt Radecki. I have to admit, I initially had zero clue as to what I was jumping into with this watch (that’s a rarity nowadays) and it was certainly all the more refreshing to take a gander at this film exclusively unbiased and wholeheartedly immersed within its simple set-up which is this: The documentary essentially follows one man’s personal, self-recorded, life-odyssey through countless hours and years of firsthand filmed footage and captured photo-memories.
Like so many of us trying to make it in the ‘Arts’ racket, or like the many people I’m sure we all know trying to make it in the ‘Arts’ racket, Rick Kirkham’s aspirations for a media-based career glistened the minute he got wind of a ‘High-8′ video-camera at a young enough, impressionable age — And from there on, any sort of privacy within Kirkham’s life was voluntarily flung straight out the bedroom window in favor of his own self-proclaimed limelight. Well before Kirkham would even go on to secure what you could say translates into this generalized representation of mainstream-success, he was already confidently maneuvering that sometimes seemingly intangible spotlight point-and-center to his own tune. Recording his every move, every personalized possessed thought, his daydreams, epiphanies, and of course, the seemingly harmless after-hours habits, Rick’s experience in front of the lens would eventually organically lead him into the adventurous, frenzied game of high-paying mainstream/action-news broadcasting.
Unfortunately, these “after-hours habits” I just so casually mentioned… well these aren’t your garden-variety filler sequences of a man showboating a Jim Morrison-esque lifestyle for the ladies — on the contrary, about fifty-five minutes into T.V. Junkie, and the Rick Kirkham story becomes heart-wrenchingly apparent. This is a tale about overcoming one’s crutches. Front and center, this is a document of Kirkham’s crumbling life amidst a plethora of “no-holds-barred” drug-addiction.
Now starting off a film, be it fiction or not, thinking it’s something in the vein of lightheartedness, and then realizing the movie is actually most in tune with something closer to “Basketball Diaries” (the real “real” version) well this is certainly no small feat to bypass and simply move on continuing to be entertained or engaged, but, nevertheless, the film’s melancholic shift in tone is not as jarring as one would expect. Maybe it’s because Kirkham himself literally acts as our own personal tour-guide into his downward-spiral, maybe it’s his calm and natural charisma that soothes the narrative-pain of the documentary in a sense. Either way, Kirkham’s journey (drugs or no drugs) could have revealed any sort of crucial character-point and I still would have gone with it. I was utterly transfixed by Kirkham’s adrenaline-junkie fueled life, and regardless of a darker shift in the grand spectrum of the story here, I was simply too fastened and secure to the Rick Kirkham odyssey, waiting to see where this fast-paced ride would steer itself next.
As depressing as the drug angle sounds though, I ultimately didn’t find T.V. Junkie to be as downbeat as something like The Devil and Daniel Johnston. I guess for me, Johnston, in his documentary, represents an individual with issues who is apparently not getting better any time soon, and that’s the heartbreak of it all. I mean sure, Johnston has reached some conceivable form of recovery with his well documented mental-illness, but I get the impression it’s probably about as far as he can go with said semi-quasi-recovery and as a result, Johnston will forever remain a prisoner of his own internalized demons… never fully winning the battle — That’s just soul-crushing in my books.
On the flip-side though, Rick Kirkham’s cautionary-tale left me believing in two utterly powerful ideas/words… “Hope” and “self-redemption.” Kirkham’s love for his wife and children combined with his soul-searching recognition of his doomed junkie-daze, even under the influence of crack, highlight the man’s true charismatic colors of decency. Somehow Kirkham’s innate sense of earnestness always manages to shine through, and even when the man himself is cloaked within a ghostly veil of drugs, Kirkham manages to prove himself to be a noble soul worth fighting/rooting for. I cried a lot while watching Rick’s story unfold but more-so because Kirkham’s earnestness is so excessive that it made me reflect upon my own upbringing… It made me reflect on my own father’s relentless determination (till this day) to provide for his family continuously grinding it out to make sure our loved ones grow up happy, healthy and strong. There is a passionate battle for family ties here, within Kirkham’s story, that deeply touched me on the most sentimental of levels.
T.V. Junkie (refreshingly enough) is not narrated by anyone. The viewer is simply left on is or her own to sift through Kirkham’s intimate adventures up close and personal and through the horse’s mouth, so to speak. On my end, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to finally sit through a documentary that wasn’t being manipulated by a well known celebrity voice-over or someone’s narrative tonal-deliver subtly advising me how to feel or judge the story’s subject/subject-matter. I’ll be up front about it, T.V. Junkie is not for everyone… that being said, I still recommend that you at least try to make the effort to seek the film out and give it a watch because I guarantee you this… Rick Kirkham, the man, will captivate your complete and undivided attention by the time you hit the ten minute mark. This is FACT. What starts out as light and breezy does indeed transcend into something “not for the faint of heart” but, nonetheless, this is powerful stuff here that will truly affect so many of us for the better. Search this film up on ‘IMDB’ and one of the ‘user comments’ reads: “Thank you Rick for saving my life.” Giving this documentary a look certainly couldn’t hurt.
* Sundance Film Festival Award Winner – Special Jury Prize, Best Documentary
Sundance Film Festival Award Nominee – Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary
Released August 13 on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Playstation, Xbox, SundanceNow, Google, Youtube.
A Gallery of Images from T.V. Junkie
Watch a clip from T.V. Junkie