I Am Evel Knievel
It’s one of the most iconic film images of the 1960s. On December 31, 1967, motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel attempted to jump the majestic fountains at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino. He didn’t make it. But that grainy film footage of Knievel bouncing across the ground like a ragdoll was all the Butte, Montana native needed to cement his name in history. The new documentary, I AM EVEL KNIEVEL, tells that history.
Told through the reminiscences of family and friends (Knievel died on November 30, 2007), the film looks at Knievel, born Robert Craig Knievel, as both a man and an icon, though they two weren’t very far apart. After marrying a local girl Knievel bounced from job to job, always looking for the next big thing. He supplanted his income with random burglaries, always managing to stay one step ahead of the law. It was after opening a motorcycle shop that he began jumping over things, from a box of rattlesnakes to 13 British double-decker buses.
Next to P.T. Barnum, Knievel may have been the greatest showman this country ever saw. A relative unknown outside of his native Montana, Knievel got the gig at Caesar’s Palace through trickery. One day he called the casino owner and, representing himself as a photographer from “Life” magazine, inquired it if were true that the casino had signed Knievel for a stunt. The owner hung up, not sure what an “Evel Knievel” was. The next day Knievel calls back, but this time he’s from “Sports Illustrated,” with the same question. By the time the third day rolled around and word got out that Knievel was in the casino the deal was practically already done.
Through archival footage and attendee interviews, Knievel’s greatest stunts are profiled and relived. The jumps are breathtaking, while some of the landings are heart, not to mention, bone-breaking. At the height of his career, after having been turned down by the U.S. government when he requested permission to jump the Grand Canyon, he received the OK to jump the Snake River. The buildup to the event was intense, much so then the actual jump, which ended when the rocket cycle’s parachutes “malfunctioned” and opened shortly after take-off. Sadly there isn’t a lot of discussion about this event, either pro or con, as to whether Knievel panicked and deployed the chutes early. Much IS made of the event’s publicist, who went on to write a “tell-all” book about Knievel, portraying him as an alcoholic and a womanizer. In true “Knievel” fashion, the daredevil took a baseball bat to the man, shattering both of his arms.
Fans of Knievel will enjoy the various stories from friends (McConnaughey) and family, especially son Robbie, who followed his father into the stunt world. And if you have an interest in marketing, watching the man promote himself and his events is a school in itself. If, like me, you had the Evel Knievel action figure and motorcycle, you’ll enjoy reliving those days from a much simpler and exciting time.
Video: Presented in its original 1:78.1 aspect ratio, video suffers when old broadcast television footage is used. By contrast, the various interviews with family and friends are sharp and clear.
Audio: The soundtrack is delivered in DTS- Master Audio 5.1 and is adequate. The poor sound quality of the television replays is really evident when a recent interview subject begins speaking.
Evil Knievel Lives On (4:51): A short piece featuring Lathan McKay who, with Knievel’s widow’s permission, began an organization named Evel Knievel Enterprises and some of the items in his Knievel Collection (or should it be Kollection?)
Inspired by Evel (15:19): More friends and fans talk about the influence Knievel had on their lives.