Carol Channing: Larger Than Life

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The original star of hit shows like Hello Dolly! and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Carol Channing is still going strong at 92. She has loved the theatre since she was seven years old, when she first set foot in one whilst helping her parents distribute Christian magazines, and this documentary recounts her story through testimony, archive material, animation and song.

There's a surprisingly rich supply of testimony; Channing's colleagues have proven a long-lived bunch. Showbiz legends like Betty Garrett, Phyllis Diller and Tippi Hedren all get to say their piece, though most charming are the words of Harry Kullijian, the high school sweetheart who carried a torch for her for 75 years. The documentary might seem unbalanced in its utter lack of criticism, but research suggests it's simply being honest - though not all her friendships and relationships worked out, everyone who knew Channing continues to think well of her.

What's her secret? She laughs upon being praised for reaching 90. "It just happened!" she protests. She's still tall and striking, still possessed of an extraordinary voice, and still much smarter than she generally lets people see. Her friendliness and evident joie de vivre light up this film every bit as much as the bright lights, the dance routines and the fabulous costumes, which include a genuine diamond-studded dress.

Channing's story ought to tell us something about the history of Broadway itself. Here the film is not as strong - it spends too much time repeating itself and focusing on minute details of Channing's shows to succeed in fleshing out that fuller picture. There are interesting insights, however, into changing attitudes to women on the stage, especially in comedy. Channing's wit is as sharp as ever and she shows a keen insight into her own work, though one can't help but feel we're seeing no more than she wants us to see. There are some entertaining, albeit brief, anecdotes about her film career. The documentary illustrates very effectively the differences in style and type between stage and screen worlds, though it never fully overcomes the problem itself - Channing is a little larger than the screen can accommodate.

Obsessive as it is, just a little too much in love with its star, this film never quite communicates as well as it could to wider audiences, though it still provides an interesting introduction to its subject. It will undoubtedly appeal to fans and it is an appropriate testament to a legend whose like we may never see again.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2012
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Director Dori Berinstein captures the magic and vivacity of the ninetysomething showbiz icon.
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Director: Dori Berinstein

Writer: Dori Berinstein, Adam Zucker

Starring: Carol Channing, Harry Kullijian, Betty Garrett, Tippi Hedren, Tyne Daly, Lily Tomlin, Barbara Walters, Phyllis Diller, Angela Lansbury

Year: 2011

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US

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