Blu-ray Review: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic

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Documentary filmmaker Marina Zenovich crams as much of Richard Pryor’s life and career into 83 minutes as she can in Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic. That’s a tough task, but the film does a decent job of presenting a “Pryor 101.” For today’s younger comedy fans, it’s sad to acknowledge that Richard Pryor may be nothing more than a name they’ve heard spoken in reverent tones. If you’re among those younger fans and need a glimpse at why the late comedian is considered one of the best ever, Omit the Logic is a good place to start. If you’re already well-acquainted with Pryor’s albums, stand-up films, and movies, it isn’t likely to expand your appreciation.

Zenovich’s template seems to have been the type of celebrity bios we see on TV all the time, from VH-1’s Behind the Music to the E! Network’s True Hollywood Story. This format is more functional than artful. Opening with a discussion of Pryor’s 1980 self-immolation, the film jumps back to the comedian’s early years and skips through career highlights at a brisk pace. There are plenty of TV and movie clips along the way, including some incredible footage shot for Live on the Sunset Strip. The first night filmed for the theatrical release was a total disaster. Pryor had just returned to the public eye after his life-threatening burns had healed. We get a taste of unused footage shot during that first night, with Pryor fumbling nervously on stage in front of a star-studded crowd. Of course, he hit a grand slam the next night and that became the released movie. There’s no discussion of his third theatrical stand-up film, Here and Now.

At the point that Omit the Logic catches up to the 1980 event depicted in its opening, Zenovich chooses to “recreate” the fiery freebasing incident using footage from the 1986 film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling. In an act of incredible artistic bravery, Pryor choose to open his self-directed, thinly-veiled biopic with a harrowing depiction of the night he set himself on fire. In other words, Pryor laid a lot of the groundwork for Zenovich in regards to this monumentally important chapter of his life. If nothing else, seeing the Jo Jo Dancer clips makes it painfully evident that Columbia Pictures truly needs to issue this unfortunately under-appreciated film on Blu-ray.

The downward spiral of Pryor’s life makes up the third act of Omit the Logic, but Zenovich fails to effectively convey just how much hard work Pryor continued to do as long as he was physically able. Well after multiple sclerosis had claimed much of his mobility and compromised his speech, Pryor granted a remarkable live interview to Larry King (when promoting his autobiography Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences). He made a deeply moving appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show around this time, slipping into his classic Mudbone character. He was nominated for an Emmy for his guest appearance as an MS patient on Chicago Hope. No, the film shouldn’t have descended into a checklist of post-illness accomplishments, but the uniformed viewer isn’t going to come away from it with a real sense of how much courageous effort Pryor invested in maintaining visibility late in his life.

Omit the Logic is, understandably, a visual mixed bag on Blu-ray as it combines newly-shot interview material with footage from many sources, spanning many years. It all looks as good as can be expected, with the highlights being the crystalline new footage. The audio is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that mirrors the image. The recent stuff sounds as good as we’d expect it to, with the older clips showing their age. None of this is a problem, given the nature of the documentary.

Special features on Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic include 35 minutes of additional interview footage from a variety of participants, including Mel Brooks, Lily Tomplin, Willie Nelson, Quincy Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, David Banks, and David Steinberg.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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