I went to the movies last night after an 18-month abstinence. We have a small indie theater in my town that reopened to premier “Roadrunner,” a biopic about Anthony Bourdain. It was pretty cool to see Ken, the manager, get a bag of popcorn and a Diet Coke, chat with him and the counter clerk about my new novel, and sit in a real theater with thirteen other people to watch a movie. All good, except for that cardboard straw. It still feels funny in my mouth. I know, I know, it’s environmentally responsible, but I’d still prefer a good old plastic straw.
So the movie begins with, of course, Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers flailing the guitars and drums three times and the title, ROADRUNNER, filling the screen. I begin tapping my foot. I’m psyched. I now have rapport with Bourdain and this film.
He was no stranger to me. I’d read his book, Kitchen Confidential, and although I no longer recollect much about it, I recall enjoying it and finding Anthony Bourdain a provocative and often amusing writer. But I had a disconnect here with the film: at the outset I’d gotten the impression it would be focused on his writing. It was not. It was about his life and career as a television celebrity. Which admittedly was much more complementary with the biopic than, say, watching him type.
Once I got home, I flipped open my MacBook and did a Wiki search for Bourdain. And yes, the man wrote a lot; two mystery novels before Kitchen Confidential and quite a few books, primarily about cooking but even a graphic novel, afterwards. This aspect of his life was pretty much overlooked in the film, but again his career in front of the camera lent itself more to “Roadrunner” the movie.
For all that, Bourdain was an interesting guy. I recall seeing his food-and-travel shows and remember well his easygoing persona and witty dialogue. He seems to have been unaffected by his celebrity, comfortable being exactly who he was, and pursuing exactly the life he wanted. I loved his ascerbic side, never afraid to tell it like it is. I came away feeling like he and I could have been friends and would have had a lot to talk about together.
And for all that and all that, as Robbie Burns wrote, Bourdain was an intense human being. It was his edge, and it was his armor. His intensity kept him engaged with life on his own terms, not that of others. He freely admits that he’d never given serious consideration to becoming a father, although he clearly doted on his daughter. He needed, and took, all the freedom he could get ahold of.
For intense men, falling in love with one woman is never enough. There is another, lying in the greener grass awaiting him, then another, perhaps yet another, until he goes too far. “Roadrunner” suggests that Asia Argento was that “yet another” woman for Bourdain, the one who is not just his match but his demise. The Delilah to his Samson. Eventually he finds he is in over his head and knows there is no way out. But she knows, and leaves him: this Delilah, clipping this Samson’s hair, neutering him. Now he has lost his sense of self and is shattered beyond repair. Beyond grieving, this Samson pulls the temple down upon himself, ending his life.