Whirlybird: An Explosive Exploration of Identity, Ambition and Abuse (Review)
Whirlybird is not just a captivating adventure through the skies of Los Angeles, but also an introspective portrait of family life and the strive for success.
Whirlybird starts out as a story of crime, justice and media interference in downtown Los Angeles, told through the lens of Zoey (then known as Bob) and Marika Tur – two freelance news reporters dedicated to chasing and reporting breaking news wherever they can find it, regardless of the effect that it has on their gradually-collapsing family. And if that synopsis isn’t enough to absorb you into this world of chaos and mayhem, the documentary’s unrelenting journey through history certainly will be. Whirlybird displays plenty of Tur’s striking archival footage, documenting famous events such as the burning man festival, the LA riots and even the police search for O.J Simpson that will leave you feeling as if you’re truly along for the ride with this eccentric couple for the entire runtime.
However, after the initial excitement and thrill that this crime-chasing offers, Whirlybird quickly morphs into a much more down-to-earth, intimate portrayal of the relationship between Bob and Marika, taking a deep dive into the mechanics of their professional and personal lives, examining the effect that their work has both on themselves and on those around them – and this is where the documentary thrives. Where plenty of filmmakers may have exploited and overused the thrilling stories that Bob’s life brought, director Matt Yoka focuses instead on the individuals in his narrative by giving them time to talk and reflect naturally, without pushing for pure entertainment value. Their professional exploits – whilst still given plenty of time to be chronicled and explored – are used primarily as the background in their own developing stories.
Whirlybird spends a lot of time exploring the concept of family, and how far is exactly too far when it comes to managing this hectic lifestyle with a wife and children who depend on you, and Zoey offers a refreshingly honest insight into her mind at the time, recalling her own regrets and shame regarding her priorities and the way she treated those around her. Her self-reflection runs throughout the film and allows the audience to connect with her and understand how this crazy story came about, without being too sympathetic or self-justifying. There are also plenty of interviews with her ex-wife and her two children, which allow for several interesting interpretations surrounding the inevitable breakdown of this family under pressure. It’s extremely real, and the documentary never wavers away from its main priority – truthfully and accurately representing these people in a way that perhaps they’ve not experienced before.
It’s difficult to talk about Whirlybird without touching on the themes of abuse and violence that plague
s the relationship between these two reporters. The documentary offers an in-depth examination into the life of Bob Tur, inspecting his history of abuse and observing how that has affected him in his daily life, and his marriage to Marika. It does a great job of analysing and attempting to understand this part of Bob’s life, and the present-day interviews with Zoey really establish how this has affected her permanently. Certainly tough to watch in parts, but it’s a great demonstration of the reality of abuse – and the story as a whole is a great example of how issues like these manifest themselves in thousands of people’s lives.
It also seems necessary to discuss the perfect balance between sharp, intense footage of crimes and disasters, and the quiet, reflective moments (even in the midst of these scenes) that Whirlybird prioritises and highlights. It isn’t afraid to lull in a moment of silence, or to include ‘mistakes’ during interviews – Yoka includes these to tighten our relationships with the individuals, and to make us feel closer to them. It’s clear from the level of filmmaking on display that Yoka has a great deal of respect for this story, and that shines through in the way that these contemplative moments are highlighted. Despite being full of action and adventure, the most impressive thing about Whirlybird is its ability to break free of its status as purely entertainment, and develop into something mature and personal, which means a whole lot more.
Ultimately, Whirlybird is two things: an exhilarating insight into American news culture in the 80s and 90s told through the perspective of two freelance reporters, and equally an examination of why these people are the way that they are, and how this has an effect on the rest of their lives. It’s a story of ambition, family and self-discovery, told to the backdrop of an unbelievable story that will keep any viewer absorbed. Whatever your opinions of this entirely controversial couple, Whirlybird makes for a wholly engaging watch.
Whirlybird will be available to watch in US Theaters and on VOD from August 6th, 2021.
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