Best Boy (1980)

110 mins | Documentary | 29 February 1980

Director:

Ira Wohl

Writer:

Ira Wohl

Producer:

Ira Wohl

Cinematographer:

Tom McDonough

Editor:

Ira Wohl

Production Company:

Only Child Motion Pictures
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HISTORY

Opening credits include the following title card: “This film, about my very special cousin Philly, is dedicated to the memory of my very special friend, Eddie O’Dwyer…” As the film ends, another title card appears, which reads: “Eight months after Philly moved into his new home, Pearl died.”
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: “This film was funded in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. In Cooperation with ZDF”; “The completion of this film would not have been possible without the generous help of the following people…A.H.R.C. – Office Staff; A.H.R.C. – O.D.C. Staff; Michael Barrow; Basada, Inc.; Keith Baxter; Chuck Barris Productions; Eric Breitbart; Jerry Bock; Charles Brill, M.D.; Camp Catskill Staff; Peggy Cerniglia; Mark Cohen; Ronnie Cohn; Nancy Coyne; Claude Demers; Mark Dichter; Downstate Hospital; Fayva Shoes; Alan Friedman; Jack Gilford; Dale Glickman; Lynn Godmilow; Sheldon Harnick; Barbara Haspiel; Edith Hoffman; Gail Katzoff; Jonathan Kose; David Kramer; Robb Lady; Laumic Company; Danny Lovick; Kate Mostel; Zero Mostel; John Mullen; McDonald’s; Christine Fye O’Connor; One to One; Belle Press; Terri Ross; Joy Roy, Ph.D.; Seymour Rubin; Rosanne Schaffer; Sally Scher; Kathy Spooner; Michael Steinfeld; Linda Stettin; Time Square Music; Irene Wagner; Waldbaum’s; Juliette Weber; Zev Weiss; Kevin Wilson; Bertha Wohl”; “With a Very Deep Debt of Gratitude to: A.H.R.C. for their support of this film, and the wonderful work they’ve done with Philly; to T.V.C. Color Laboratories, for their excellent work as well as their patience and understanding; to Robert Wiemer and Richard Berman for their generosity in making available the Blue Marble Company’s film facilities; to Tom McDonough, for his belief in me, ... More Less

Opening credits include the following title card: “This film, about my very special cousin Philly, is dedicated to the memory of my very special friend, Eddie O’Dwyer…” As the film ends, another title card appears, which reads: “Eight months after Philly moved into his new home, Pearl died.”
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: “This film was funded in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. In Cooperation with ZDF”; “The completion of this film would not have been possible without the generous help of the following people…A.H.R.C. – Office Staff; A.H.R.C. – O.D.C. Staff; Michael Barrow; Basada, Inc.; Keith Baxter; Chuck Barris Productions; Eric Breitbart; Jerry Bock; Charles Brill, M.D.; Camp Catskill Staff; Peggy Cerniglia; Mark Cohen; Ronnie Cohn; Nancy Coyne; Claude Demers; Mark Dichter; Downstate Hospital; Fayva Shoes; Alan Friedman; Jack Gilford; Dale Glickman; Lynn Godmilow; Sheldon Harnick; Barbara Haspiel; Edith Hoffman; Gail Katzoff; Jonathan Kose; David Kramer; Robb Lady; Laumic Company; Danny Lovick; Kate Mostel; Zero Mostel; John Mullen; McDonald’s; Christine Fye O’Connor; One to One; Belle Press; Terri Ross; Joy Roy, Ph.D.; Seymour Rubin; Rosanne Schaffer; Sally Scher; Kathy Spooner; Michael Steinfeld; Linda Stettin; Time Square Music; Irene Wagner; Waldbaum’s; Juliette Weber; Zev Weiss; Kevin Wilson; Bertha Wohl”; “With a Very Deep Debt of Gratitude to: A.H.R.C. for their support of this film, and the wonderful work they’ve done with Philly; to T.V.C. Color Laboratories, for their excellent work as well as their patience and understanding; to Robert Wiemer and Richard Berman for their generosity in making available the Blue Marble Company’s film facilities; to Tom McDonough, for his belief in me, and his integrity as both an artist and a man; to My Aunt Pearl, my Uncle Max and my Cousins Frances and Norman, for allowing me to enter their lives and trusting me to handle them with care; And Most of All to My Cousin Philly, for giving me the chance to do the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life, and reminding me how very delicate and beautiful a human life can be.”
       According to a 15 Apr 1980 Us article, director Ira Wohl did not start out with the intent to make a documentary about his cousin Philly. When Pearl and Max Wohl, his aunt and uncle, took Philly for psychological and neurological testing to see if he was a candidate for independent living, Ira, a filmmaker, brought along his camera and documented the experience. He was excited by what he captured and wanted to record Philly’s progress on film. Notes distributed at a 24 Sep 2007 AMPAS “Oscar’s Docs, Part Three” screening at the Linwood Dunn Theater stated that “at a family gathering in 1976,” Wohl witnessed that Philly’s feelings were hurt by a callous remark from a relative, which made him regard his cousin in a new light. Around the same time, he became worried, along with other family members, about Philly’s fate once his elderly parents died. As Philly’s future became part of the family conversation, Wohl decided his camera would tell the story.
       As stated in Us, Philly thrived in his group home with assistance from Social Security and aid from the Association for the Help of Retarded Children despite the death of both parents. The AMPAS documentary screening notes revealed that the push to give Philly an independent life had been the right move. At eighty-years-old, Philly was in excellent health and good spirits aside from a touch of arthritis and the need of a walker.
       Us stated that Wohl paid to process the “first day’s shoot,” but saved money during production by developing but not printing his film. Wohl claimed he had to wait a year before viewing any footage beyond the first day of shooting. Halfway through the production when Wohl ran out of money, he was able to raise the last $125,000 of his budget through state and Federal grants. He also received funding from the Association for the Help of Retarded Children. As reported in an 8 Oct 1980 LAHExam article, Wohl used one out of every ten feet shot when the average on most documentaries is one foot used out of thirty or forty feet shot. He claimed that he had not yet recouped his film budget and advertising costs that amounted to twice the budget.
       Pearl and Frances Wohl requested that Ira Wohl not film Max’s funeral, but allowed him to film the gravesite; however, the director got lost on the way to the cemetery and never made it there.
       In AMPAS screening notes, Wohl reflected that one of the best lessons Best Boy taught him about making documentaries was that the right formula involved creating “an atmosphere in which an already existing story is allowed to tell itself with a minimum of interference from the filmmaking process.” The rest of his inspiration came from the passion of telling a story that resembled his own adolescent struggle.
       The film had its world premiere 7 Sep 1979 at the Toronto Film Festival, according to a 5 Sep 1979 The Globe and Mail article. In late Nov 1979, it opened commercially in Canada, as stated in a 29 Nov 1979 Toronto Star article, playing for one week at the 400-seat Uptown 3 Theater in Toronto, where 4,000 people attended the screening. The decision was then made to move the film to the Uptown 2, a 600-seat theater, to accommodate larger audiences. Best Boy appeared 5 Oct 1979 at the New York Film Festival, according to an NYT review of the same date, and 17 Oct 1979 at the San Francisco Film Festival, as stated in the 17 Oct 1979 S.F. Examiner.
       Reviews for the film were overwhelmingly positive. Jeanne Miller in the 17 Oct 1979 San Francisco Examiner called Philly “an incredibly moving hero” and gave Wohl high marks for not exploiting his aunt and uncle’s grief at letting their son create a new life. On 15 Oct 1979, Laurie Stone of Village Voice praised the documentary for being “rich in psychological nuance and drama.” Stone was also impressed by the “intimacy” of Wohl’s camera “without being hostile or prying.” Joy Gould Boyum called the film “extraordinary” as well as “touching, amusing and ultimately uplifting” in a 29 Feb 1980 WSJ review.
       The film received an Academy Award for Best Documentary. It was also selected as one of seven films at the Cannes Film Festival's “Semaine de la Critique.” A 29 Dec 1979 NYT article announced that the film won an honorary award for Best Documentary from The National Board of Review; Wohl’s website listed the honor as the “D.W. Griffith Award.” Best Boy was also named Best Documentary by the New York Film Critics, as reported in a 13 Dec 1980 LAT item.
       A 21 Apr 1980 LAT article reported that Wohl’s four-minute acceptance speech at the Academy Awards ceremony was criticized by telecast producer Howard W. Koch, a former Motion Picture Academy president. In light of Wohl’s lengthy speech, Koch questioned whether awards for documentaries should continue to be aired and whether documentary filmmakers were as relevant as their feature-making counterparts. When Wohl heard Koch’s remarks to Carole Hemingway on KABC radio, he phoned the station and told Koch that the industry was not based on one kind of film nor should documentaries be considered a lesser art form.
       An 18 Feb 1999 DV news item announced that partners Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn of Mutual Film Co. had bought the rights to Ira Wohl’s documentary to develop the story into a “fictionalized feature.” Nick Theil was hired to write the drama.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Cosmopolitan
Jun 1980.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1979.
---
Daily Variety
18 Feb 1999.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jul 1999
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Nov 1979
p. 16.
LAHExam
8 Oct 1980
Section B, p. 1, 5.
LAHExam
10 Oct 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 1980
Section VI, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
5 Oct 1980
p. 33.
Los Angeles Times
13 Dec 1980.
---
New York
24 Mar 1980.
---
New York Times
5 Oct 1979.
---
New York Times
29 Dec 1979.
---
New York Times
29 Feb 1980
p. 14.
New Yorker
10 Mar 1980.
---
Playboy
Feb 1980.
---
SFExaminer
17 Oct 1979
p. 24.
The Globe and Mail
5 Sep 1979
Section P, p. 13.
Toronto Star
29 Nov 1979
Section C , p.4.
Us
15 Apr 1980
p. 47.
Variety
19 Sep 1979
p. 18.
Village Voice
15 Oct 1979.
---
Wall St. Journal
29 Feb 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
The Association For The Help Of Retarded Children New York City Chapter, Irene Platt - President
Michael Goldfarb -- Executive Director
And Only Child Motion Pictures Present
A Film by Ira Wohl
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
Dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITER
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Addl photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Ed asst
Ed asst
Negative conformng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles & opticals
PRODUCTION MISC
Consultants for A.H.R.C.
Executive Director
Consultants for A.H.R.C.
Director of Developmental Evaluation Clinic
Consultants for A.H.R.C.
Director of Community Education
Spec consultant
SOURCES
SONGS
"Anniversary Waltz," words and music by Al Dubin and Dave Franklin, copyright ©1941 by Mayfair Music Corp., controlled outside the U.S.A. by Mayfair Music Corp., copyright renewed, assigned to intersong Music, for the U.S.A.
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 February 1980
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 7 September 1979 at Toronto Film Festival
New York opening: 29 February 1980
Los Angeles opening: 8 October 1980
Copyright Claimant:
New York State Association for Retarded Children, New York City Chapter
Copyright Date:
8 October 1980
Copyright Number:
PA90642
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
110
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Fifty-two-year-old Philip “Philly” Wohl, the cousin of filmmaker Ira Wohl, is mentally handicapped. Except for two years of institutionalization from the ages twelve to fourteen, he has lived with his parents all his life. Philly sits quietly as his father, Max, gives him a shave. As Philly’s parents grow older, extended family members realize that Philly needs to become more independent to prepare for the time when his parents, Max and Pearl, are gone. As a first step, Philly is psychologically tested and he shows the psychologist that he can count to ten. His parents have never sent him to school and he does not know the answer to a lot of the psychologist’s questions, including his age, the difference between a banana and an orange, and how many legs a dog has or a cat has. However, Philly can play cards and sings well. At home, Philly vacuums, dusts and does the dishes. According to Pearl, the better her son feels, the cleaner the dishes and pots. A doctor interviews the family and learns that the staff and other children beat Philly when he was at the institution as a boy. During one visit, Max remembers his son standing in the freezing cold in thin clothing while the dormitories were cleaned. He was incensed and brought Philly home. The doctor asks Philly to pick out certain cards from a deck or count paper clips but Philly is easily confused. He cannot tell time, does not know his right from his left or up and down, but he is good at following commands. The doctor determines that Philly has good social skills and recommends that he attend a ... +


Fifty-two-year-old Philip “Philly” Wohl, the cousin of filmmaker Ira Wohl, is mentally handicapped. Except for two years of institutionalization from the ages twelve to fourteen, he has lived with his parents all his life. Philly sits quietly as his father, Max, gives him a shave. As Philly’s parents grow older, extended family members realize that Philly needs to become more independent to prepare for the time when his parents, Max and Pearl, are gone. As a first step, Philly is psychologically tested and he shows the psychologist that he can count to ten. His parents have never sent him to school and he does not know the answer to a lot of the psychologist’s questions, including his age, the difference between a banana and an orange, and how many legs a dog has or a cat has. However, Philly can play cards and sings well. At home, Philly vacuums, dusts and does the dishes. According to Pearl, the better her son feels, the cleaner the dishes and pots. A doctor interviews the family and learns that the staff and other children beat Philly when he was at the institution as a boy. During one visit, Max remembers his son standing in the freezing cold in thin clothing while the dormitories were cleaned. He was incensed and brought Philly home. The doctor asks Philly to pick out certain cards from a deck or count paper clips but Philly is easily confused. He cannot tell time, does not know his right from his left or up and down, but he is good at following commands. The doctor determines that Philly has good social skills and recommends that he attend a five-day per week program where he can meet similar people. Philly, Pearl, and his sister, Frances, visit a training center run by the Association for the Help of Retarded Children, where he can learn new skills. Philly attends an exercise class and enjoys it. He is excited when he completes a task and tells his father about it later. Max thinks the excitement of the program will wear off in a day or two. One summer day, Ira takes Philly on an outing for the first time without his parents. They watch animals at the zoo: chimpanzees, giraffes, and tigers. Philly eats an ice cream sandwich, rides on the tram and sings songs. Philly proposes to Pearl that he will take her to the zoo when he visits again. Soon, Philly is enrolled in the Association for the Help of Retarded Children program and rides the bus to school, where he is introduced to other students. The teacher takes them to McDonalds for lunch and Philly orders his own food. At home, Max and Pearl adjust to Philly’s absence, while at school, Philly plays basketball and watches other students dance. At home, Philly is animated when he tells his parents about his adventures and how he enjoyed himself. Ira takes Philly to see Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel on Broadway. Philly loves to sing “If I Were A Rich Man,” and backstage, he and Zero sing the song together. Pearl and Frances visit Philly at the training center. The teacher instructs Philly to bring chairs for them. Later, Pearl displays Philly’s artwork. After six months, Philly is so fond of the training center that when a snow day keeps him home he becomes restless and bored. Philly wants to go out and eat chow mein. Ira asks Philly about his brother, Hunson, who died from cancer two years earlier. Philly misses him. Pearl remarks that the training program has taught Philly some things but his progress is slow. She is gratified that Ira loves Philly and enjoys taking him on trips. When Max undergoes surgery to reverse his growing blindness, Pearl and Frances get him settled in his hospital room. At school, Philly learns how to shave himself and to deal with money. He walks to the grocery around the corner from the center and buys an ice cream sandwich. Max returns home from the hospital and Philly promises to help out. Max warns Philly to behave or Ira will not take him on trips. Philly is perplexed why Max would punish him when he loves his father. Philly agrees to attend Camp Catskill, a sleep-away camp, for three weeks during the summer, and Ira is proud of him. Philly sings, dances and plays sports. He is excited to see his family when they come to visit, and he smiles and kisses everybody. He shows his parents the bunk where he sleeps and sings “As Time Goes By.” Later, Frances and Pearl explain to Philly that Max was so ill in the hospital that he has died and Philly understands that Max is in heaven with Hunson. Ira explains to Pearl that a new group home is about to open nearby and it would be wise for Philly to move there. It is close enough for Philly to visit and for her to visit him. Ira wants Philly to have a life after Pearl dies. Pearl desperately needs Philly’s company now that Max is gone, but she agrees to ask her son if he wants to live at the home. When Pearl explains that living in the new home means he will not come back to the apartment, Philly quickly agrees to go with a smile on his face. He and his family tour the facilities and meet the other residents. Philly has juice and spontaneously sings “The Anniversary Waltz.” When his family leaves, Philly smiles and promises to be good. Later, Pearl calls Philly and finds out he is making lunch for school. In the morning, Philly shaves and gets ready for school. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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