Feb 2011 18

by Andrew E. Konietzky

Certifiably Jonathan is a charming documentary on the past comedic works of 85 year old Jonathan Winters, which serves as an introduction to his entire other career as an incredible painter. As a comedian Jonathan Winters is a genius, and this film brings together a huge group of people – including Robin Williams to Sarah Silverman – who have been influenced by his decidedly quirky brand of humor. Directed by Jim Pasternak, this documentary turned mockumentary is hilarious the whole way through, and contains more amazing cameos then you can imagine. There are very few living legends today, and he is one of them. In the footage of him and Robin Williams, the chemistry and energy between them is just unbelievable.

The film began as a straightforward documentary at least that is what the rumor is. Winters drops stray autobiographical tidbits in the course of his runaway monologues, he seems resistant to any form of structured narration, and Pasternak fails to impose order on Winters’ genius. Here is a man that has wrestled with bipolar disorder and once endured an eight-month stint in a mental hospital, where he underwent shock therapy. Winters is much more compelling in the few moments when he talks about his fascinating, tumultuous life than he is when he defaults to acting silly.

It’s clear this film is a labor of love for Jim Pasternak who follows Winters as he attempts to make it past the gatekeepers of the legitimate art world to be accepted as a serious painter. As the film progresses, it abandons its very loose commitment to a real documentary, and spirals into a weird twisty plot in which Winters’ sense of humor is sucked out of him by a spiritual vampire and he must win back his creative mojo so he can finish new paintings in time for a prestigious potential showing.

Overall the superior parts of the “mockumentary” are the rare archived footage of Winters’ comic performances, his artwork, and his interaction with other comedians. Much of the older footage harks back to the days of black & white TV, and had me laughing out loud. Even though the bits were about fifty years old, the material was still amazingly fresh. There is one piece of footage where he does improvisation with a stick that is simply genius.

As for Winters’ other career, his work in this area is once again, amazing. His paintings are full of symbolism and have a Native American vibe. Animations of some of his paintings appear regularly throughout the film, each one ending with the actual painting and title. Some are dark, some are funny, and some are twisted in their messages.

Certifiably Jonathan is a funny and touching film about a talented painter that just so happens to be an iconic part of comic history. As much as I enjoyed this film however, I still think Winters deserves a real documentary about his life.