The Father of Trash TV on the Big Screen

Like many aspiring filmmakers, Dix Hills native Jeremy Newberger began his career by enrolling in film school. He dropped out after only one semester and became an English major at SUNY Albany. “I realized I was going to graduate from film school and be one of a million people who know how to load a camera,” Newberger explained. “Studying English gave me a knowledge base that included Shakespeare and Chaucer. Plus, Albany was a fun place to learn how to play darts.”

In many ways, this first decision of his career presaged the type of films he would eventually make. In collaboration with Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller, his partners in upstate New York-based Ironbound Films, Newberger created a series of lively, thought-provoking documentaries that explore world issues through the lives of quirky individuals. “I don’t have a beautiful eye for creating pretty pictures,” Newberger noted, “I hire a cinematographer to do that. I’m a storyteller. We seek out material that can make people think, laugh and cry.”

Newberger’s latest, Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, has been his most successful yet. This entertaining and illuminating documentary explores the spectacular rise and fall of the man many consider to be the father of “trash television.” Talk shows are almost as old as television itself and new ones sprouted constantly in the 1980s, but no one had ever seen anything quite like The Morton Downey Jr. Show.

Although it was modeled on Joe Pyne’s confrontational political talk show, Downey added freak show elements straight out of professional wrestling and a layer of white-hot rage. While some were horrified, viewers flocked to Downey’s show in massive numbers, including three young men who would become filmmakers.

One of the initial inspirations for Évocateur was the realization that Newberger and both of his partners had watched the show even though none of them shared Downey’s anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-feminist, pro-gun, race-baiting views. Like many fans, they tuned in to catch those moments when Mort would go berserk and the already abrasive discussion would explode into verbal, and sometimes even physical, violence. Political debate had been reborn as a contact sport. Downey’s career burned out quickly but Évocateur demonstrates his immense influence. Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh all appropriated Downey’s techniques to achieve far greater success and power than the unstable Downey.

Newberger and his partners are already deep into production on their new film, which will again explore ideas refracted through an unusual personal tale. For several years, they have been filming an anthropologist who is studying the effects of climate change on indigenous people. Newberger feels proud that this will be Ironbound Films’ fourth feature film, “Not bad for a dope who was fired from The Gap because he couldn’t fold shirts.”

dylan skolnick

Dylan Skolnick can usually be found at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, where he is a Co-Director.