The Peter Sellers Story As He Filmed It

The Peter Sellers Story As He Filmed It

***

Reviewed by: Ben Sillis

People say that the greatest geniuses are always the most troubled and this is surely true of comedians. Charlie Chaplin had his vices (underage girls?). Tony Hancock always joked about killing himself, before actually doing it. Peter Cook's alcoholism sent him to a tragically early grave. Peter Sellers, it seems, was a man whose comic characters brought laughter to millions and yet could not touch the same joy in his own life.

Coming after last year's feature film The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, a modest attempt at a similar task, with a magnetic performance from Geoffrey Rush in the titular role, this BBC documentary has a unique spin on the biography of the famous actor/comedian. Sellers was a film obsessive. For almost 30 years he recorded his public and private life, charting his rise and rise from radio star to Hollywood A-lister in a unique and intimate manner.

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There are some fascinating glimpses into his personal life. Several members of the royal family were close friends and he captures them on celluloid hobnobbing at his home, while in one silent clip, he larks around in a Chaplinesque fashion on a film set with a forklift truck, proving that his comic talent was physical as well as verbal - indeed one friend rightly asserts that he would have made it as a star just the same in the silent era.

It appears, however, that even this footage doesn't reveal the real man, as interviews with wives reveal. Spoilt and smothered as a child, Peter became possessive and controlling, always insisting on his own way, and hopping from marriage to marriage. He always said that he had no identity outside of the characters he played and watching this film you can't help but agree. His personality was opaque, even to his nearest and dearest.

The film's greatest attribute is also its main flaw - an unrelenting stream of video footage. Although Sellers fancied himself as a photographer, it is inevitable that some of the stuff he shot - most, in the case of people - is far from interesting. Yet the Arena editor Anthony Wall feels compelled to keep the home movies running for the entire duration, which seems a shame, as often the audio track is not related to what's being shown on the screen, as when a section of The Goon Show plays over a family trip to the beach. When friends and colleagues are giving interviews, a visual anchorage to the here and now wouldn't have gone amiss.

Existing knowledge is required, as the documentary skirts over certain details. Peter's childhood is only touched upon, owing to a lack of film stock, and Sellers' break into Tinseltown is missing altogether. The documentary eschews linear chronology, requiring a certain familiarity with his body of work.

Ultimately, this one is for the fans.

Reviewed on: 10 Nov 2005
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Rare glimpses into Sellers' private life, as seen through his own home videos.
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