This documentary has no title ... or does it?
There’s a scene in the middle of “The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary” where director Ben Berman hires an actor to attend a screening of a competing project at a film festival and ask a specific question afterward during the Q&A session.
So it was a pretty well-played gag that he kind of did the same thing at the world premiere of his own doc on Friday at the Sundance Film Festival at the MARC Theatre in Park City.
What made the stunt play so well is that it was not only the same question, but also it was asked by the person who the actor in the documentary was asking about in the first place.
Hopefully not, but if you are, you can begin to appreciate how Berman himself felt during the filming of his documentary subject John Edward Szeles -- better known as entertainer/magician/prankster Amazing Johnathan. Due to a heart issue, Johnathan had been given one year to live and Berman’s project was tasked with following him around to capture his return to the road and the search for meaning in his rapidly expiring life.
Or was he? You know, dying? Or was it some elaborate publicity hoax?
There are many surprises throughout the course of the film, and I won’t reveal them here. Berman’s project becomes not only a doc on Johnathan -- who often shows himself to be not so amazing offstage -- but a personal and introspective journey as he confronts his own childhood and certain multiple setbacks during the course of this film project. At one point in the film, Berman has to ask his subject some tough questions, which results in additional other unexpected plot twists and no small dose of serendipitous closure.
For what it’s worth, Berman and the Amazing Johnathan were both at the post-screening Q&A, and my favorite comment came from Jonathan when he said of Berman, “It was only at the end (of the filming process) where I hated him.”
-- Doug Fox