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Carol Channing: Larger Than Life – Hot Docs Film Festival ’11 | Day 6

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Hot Docs Film Festival ’11 | Day 6
Written by Sarah Boslaugh
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 09:57

Seldom has a documentary been more aptly subtitled than Dori Berinstein’s Carol Channing: Larger Than Life. Channing is a member of that now almost extinct breed of stars who could fill up a Broadway stage and project to the very last seat in the very last row of the balcony, no microphone required. She’s still larger than life at age 90, continuing to perform and speak on behalf of arts programs in schools and happily involved in a romance with her junior high school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. Carol Channing is a love letter to the star and is composed of the expected mix of interviews, archival material, and new footage. The one unusual element, an animated Carol by way of Al Hirschfeld’s famous caricature, is unnecessary and annoying but it won’t keep you from enjoying the rest of the film.

Much of the performance footage seems to be from the Tony Awards and other special occasions rather than Broadway performances, but Berinstein and her crew deserve credit for making good use of what was available. More notable are the varied cast of interview subjects featured in the film, from the obvious choices like Jerry Herman and Bruce Vilanch to the chorus boys who appeared onstage with Carol in the 1995 Hello, Dolly! revival who say that she treated them like family, twice taking the whole crew out to the movies and serving them herself from behind the concessions counter. Much of the information conveyed here will already be known to Channing aficionados—the lead in Hello, Dolly! was originally meant for Ethel Merman, Channing comes from a mixed ethnic heritage including Jewish (on her mother’s side) and African-American (on her father’s), and she never missed a performance even when being treated for ovarian cancer. But as she appeared in only a few movies (her performances were too big for the movies, as someone remarks during this film), this documentary may be the best way to convey to the younger generation who Carol Channing is and what she has meant to the American theatre.