- Movie Rating -

Whirlybird (2020)

| August 28, 2021

[This review is part of my ongoing coverage of the films screened at Birmingham Alabama’s 23rd Annual Sidewalk Film Festival]

Previous to seeing Matt Yoba’s documentary Whirlybird, I only knew Bob Tur as that guy who filmed O.J.’s infamous chase down the L.A. Freeway in his white Ford Broncho.  That’s a pretty lofty bit of notoriety even if no one knows anything else about you.  Truth be told, I never thought about who was filming it, and even more disturbingly, I never thought about exactly how low that helicopter had to get in order to get in so close that one could see Simpson moving around inside.

When you’ve spent some time with Bob Tur (now Zoey Tur), you’re not at all surprised that she put herself, her pilot and her own wife in mortal danger to capture one of the most chilling moments in the last decade of the 20th century.  Throughout this film, we learn that this was a person whose whole life has been a high-wire act, always teetering on the edge of danger, always reaching for video footage of crimes and police chases that others in the field might have backed away from.  Given her background of parental abuse, a risk-taking profession and difficultly coming to grips with her own sexual identity, it almost seems inevitable that it would eventually destroy her marriage.

Whatever his deep-seeded flaws, this type-A personality and a raging ambition may have cost her, what she captured on film and what she built as a video journalist were invaluable.  She and her wife took to the seedy world of crossing police lines and sneaking into crime scenes almost as a kind of drug.  We see that Tur is not someone who was afraid to get into a screaming match with an angry cop (it’s all the more daring in that this is the LAPD).  Yoka places at the forefront the footage that Tur and wife Marika were able to capture.  We get a front-row seat to the adrenaline rush that made their job so addictive.

Her job may remind you of what Jake Gyllenhaal was doing in Nightcrawler, but the stakes were much higher.  They were inventing a new kind of video journalism.  Starting out by selling juicy footage of one-the-scene accidents and chases to news agencies, they became so successful that they bought a helicopter that they rigged up so that they could capture footage in a new way.  They learned how to get in close and yet still remain airborne, they captured not only the chilling images of the L.A. riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, but also the beating of Reginald Denny.

Obviously, staying ahead of police chases and on-the-scene crimes was a 24/7 job and eventually it took a toll on their marriage.  As the business grew (they started working for CBS) the demands of the job put a strain on the marriage, particularly as Bob began transitioning to Zoey.  It is painful to listen to Bob berate Marika for not getting the right footage.  We can see the marriage coming apart.

What we get from this movie is the story of a complicated individual.  It is one thing to focus on the footage that the Turs made famous, but it is another to really zero in on the person that Zoey was before and after the transition.  The movie does not offer and ending-point, a reconciliation nor any sort of follow-up beyond a text to tell you what happened to everyone.  What becomes of Zoey Tur by the end is really wrought from the failings in her own personality.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary