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Netflix's Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed isn't as compelling as its title

  • "The title of Joshua Rofé’s Netflix documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed is meant to suggest friction between a public image and the truth, to imply a juicy and possibly salacious story to be revealed in 90 minutes," says Daniel Fienberg. "Instead, it’s much closer to the work of its main subject: a bit hurried, inoffensive and ultimately unsubstantial. It’s loosely informative, rarely revelatory and, despite what the title might lead you to expect, never provocative." He adds: "It’s a simple story with ample room for exploration or discovery. Rofé does only a little of either. There’s a lot of footage from The Joy of Painting, a lot of footage from various talk show appearances, some amusing archival photos of pre-Afro Ross and the occasional animated reenactment in a perplexing style that in no way evokes Ross’ style or the style of the rest of the documentary. A problem may be that Ross wasn’t a hugely interesting guy, which I don’t mean necessarily as an insult. Lots of stars don’t have deep, dark secrets and for lots of public figures there’s little or no friction between their public image and the truth. The documentary has a limited stable of talking heads — more on that in a second — and their insights end up being minimal. Ross was maybe a little flirtatious with some of his co-workers, it seems, but not in any way that’s implied to be unseemly. A colleague says that he could be a little ornery at times, and one or two people speak about his love of fast cars, but neither fact is even slightly consequential. It’s repeated several times that what you expected from Bob Ross based on his persona was what you got from Bob Ross as a man, which is great news if you wanted to be friends with Bob Ross, less great news if you want to make a compelling documentary about him."


    • Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed is a tale of a warm-hearted soul who seems to have been taken advantage of, in life and death: Filmmaker Joshua Rofé "smoothly interweaves old video and audio material, present-day interviews shot in a variety of locales, and striking recreation sequences—in this case, stationary Ross-esque paintings of incidents related by his speakers—to capture the various angles of his saga," says Nick Schager. "Despite its somewhat misleading title, which is technically accurate but suggests more sensationalism that the film delivers, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed does convey the ruthlessness of capitalistic enterprise, especially when there are untold riches to be earned from a star and the myriad ancillary T-shirts, pajamas, lunch boxes and Chia Pets (ugh) that their name and face can sell. If anything, Ross is as popular today as he ever was—if not more so, as evidenced by a late montage of contemporary pop-culture shout-outs to the artist (including from Deadpool)—which is what ultimately renders Rofé’s expose of manipulation and avarice so depressing."
    • Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed tries too hard to paint a dark portrait: "There was no doubt a real man behind the facade of the television-famous painter, but the film often feels like it’s scraping for a scandalous angle simply to make it worthy of Netflix and its big buzz machine," says Kristen Lopez. "In the opening credits alone, dark clouds are painted on the horizon (pun very much intended) as Ross’ own son, Stephen, implies that his dear old dad hid many secrets. But those 'secrets' aren’t nearly as shocking as the film paints them out to be. And, considering how much of the documentary isn’t actually about that, it feels disingenuous to play up such a thin angle."
    • Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed has a story to tell about the unseen parts of his fame: "And it turns out to be not as pretty a picture as the ones he manifested countless times on camera," says Robert Abele, adding that director Joshua Rofé "does a smooth job of weaving the cheerful, inspiring parts of Ross’ rise — from eccentric details about his genuineness and appeal to what he meant to his devotees — with the shadow story of a turbulent business enterprise, namely a portrait of Ross’ partners, Annette and Walt Kowalski (also not interviewed but seen in news clips), as supportive handlers turned cagey, unscrupulous manipulators driven by jealousy and money."
    • The documentary is hamstrung by a reluctance of key players to go on the record
    • The story makes for a compelling documentary, if only because it offers another chance to spend time with Bob Ross
    • Bob Ross Inc. slams the Bob Ross documentary as "inaccurate and heavily slanted": "Bob Ross Inc. takes strong issue with the inaccurate and heavily slanted portrayal of our company in the Netflix film, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed," the company said in a statement. "While the producers of the Netflix film did contact Bob Ross Inc. twice, in late August and October 2020, each request arrived replete with a confounding lack of transparency. At no time did they pose specific questions to Bob Ross Inc. or ask for any form of rebuttal to specific assertions they had decided to include in the film."
    • Why Melissa McCarthy and Bob Falcone decided to produce a Bob Ross documentary: "Way before we started the documentary, Ben's mom gave us a toaster that literally burns the impression of Bob Ross into our toast because we liked him so much," says McCarthy, adding: "His range was very unusual. I can't think of someone else that was enjoyed by people across such a wide spectrum." Falcone adds: "We've never intended to set out and create a hit piece. We like Bob Ross and we still do. We were surprised to uncover some of the things we uncovered."
    • Filmmaker Joshua Rofé on what drew him to make a documentary on Bob Ross: "The second that people expressed any sort of trepidation or fear around speaking about him publicly, that's it, I was in," he says. "I knew I had to make this film because I wanted to know why. In the wake of his passing, all these years later, here are people who loved him who were afraid to speak about him. I felt there was no question that this will yield an interesting story. It was all around fear of this legal retaliation in those initial phone calls (and) the legalities are obviously key parts of the story. But what I was more interested in was the morality and the battle as it related to that. You know, what was right and wrong as it related to the life rights of this man, who [in the lead up to his death was] essentially in hospice, dying of cancer weighing 90 pounds? It was that stuff that I felt was really going to be at the heart of this film."

    TOPICS: Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed, Netflix, Bob Ross, Joshua Rofé, Documentaries