Dir: Barbara Kopple. US. 1999. 97 mins.
Prod Co: On Tour Productions/Cabin Creek Films. Int'l Sales: Films Transit International. Prod: Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck, Linda Saffire. DoPs: Don Lenzer, Tom Hurwitz, Sandy Sissel. Ed: Bob Eisenhardt. Sound: Peter Miller, John McCormick, Michael Lonsdale. Mus: Art Labriola. Main cast: Gregory Peck, Veronique Peck, Cecilia Peck, Lauren Bacall.
Having tracked Woody Allen across Europe for the revealing Wild Man Blues, documentarist Barbara Kopple now turns her attention to a very different American icon. An Oscar-winning actor, life-long campaigner for liberal causes and noted humanitarian, Eldred Gregory Peck has always projected an image of calm authority, moral rectitude and grace under pressure. Kopple's intimate family portrait proves that this is no mere act and the man himself is every bit as admirable as the characters he has portrayed. Filled with memorable moments from movies like Roman Holiday and Peck's own favourite To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a movie buff's delight. It is even good enough to merit a modest theatrical release. More realistically it will see service as the perfect starting point for career tributes and Festival screenings and enjoy buoyant worldwide sales across all ancillary markets.
Now 84 and semi-retired, Peck is seen touring America in a one-man show format that he inherited from his good friend Cary Grant. The evening generally consists of ample clips from his career, memories of cherished colleagues like Audrey Hepburn and Harper Lee and a lengthy question and answer session with the droves of loyal fans who attend. More akin to a religious meeting than a visit to the theatre, the evenings invariably bring out those whose lives have been touched on the most profound level by Peck's work. Some have named their children in his honour, others have been inspired to join the legal profession on the basis of his performance as Atticus Finch. Visiting obscure corners of America and Canada, Peck himself is unfailing in his gentle humour, humble gratitude and genuine interest in his fans and their kind words.
Co-produced by Peck's daughter Cecilia, the documentary includes a good deal of home movie footage shot at the Peck residences in Los Angeles and Grasse. We also see Peck with close friends like Lauren Bacall and Jacques Chirac and receiving the National Medal For The Arts from a starstruck President Clinton. It may have the air of an authorised project but it does not entirely detract from the darker sides of his life including his feelings on Jonathan Peck, the son who committed suicide.
The details of his first marriage are never mentioned but there is a very warm sense of his complete devotion to second wife and soulmate Veronique, his children and his grandchildren. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he stresses first and foremost that he would like to be considered a good father and a good husband. Remarkably untainted by fifty years of celebrity and times of personal tragedy, it is easy to concur with a statement in the film that Peck represents what is best in all of us. To paraphrase the signature film of another beloved all-American giant, it has been a wonderful life.