The film begins with choppy shots of Tower inexplicably wandering Mexican ruins and saying dramatic axioms such as “I need to stay away from human beings, because somehow I am not one.” At this point in the film, we do not know where Tower is, why he is there, or why these ruins are relevant. Film-goers may not even be sure who he is in the first place. This opening thus feels bizarre and confusing, and its over-dramatic tone is downright laughable. When the documentary informs us that Tower mysteriously disappeared during his career and moved to Mexico, the scenery make slightly more sense, but the sequence continues to be theatrical and borderline nonsensical. The shots of Tower looking over the ruins from the top of a pyramid, his feet walking along the sand, are totally unnecessary. There are even images of unidentified children, which only seem remotely appropriate when Tower discusses his childhood.
The documentary depicts Tower in such an unfavorable light that I wondered if we were supposed to dislike him (it soon becomes unbelievably apparent that we are meant to sympathize with him). Tower begins to talk about his privileged, opulent childhood by saying that the worst thing to ever happen to him was not being an orphan. However, after expressing a desire to have been an orphan he describes how his parents’ wealth enabled him to live a lavish life, including the ability to order plate after plate of luxury food that directly inspired his culinary career. Tower may not have been so successful were it not for his parents and the privileges his family name afforded him, yet he whines that he would have been better off without his parents.
He proves to be even less relatable as the film goes on, laughing about the fact that when civil movements were coming to fruition in the 1960s, he was “too busy cooking” to be a revolutionary. Not everyone needs to or should consider themselves revolutionary, but Tower seems apathetic when he boasts that while people were fighting for their rights (and his rights, for that matter, because Tower is homosexual) he was drinking champagne and expensive wine, cooking dinner for his friends, and throwing a Molotov cocktail at an unoccupied building in the middle of the night on a joyride with his friends. The filmmakers clearly want audiences to feel sorry for Tower when, at the age of 30, his parents stop giving him an allowance hefty enough to support his frivolous lifestyle, but I couldn’t help but think he deserved it. It is also hard not to sympathize with his friend-turned-lover-turned-enemy Alice Waters, who clashed with Tower when he turned her affordable hippie restaurant into an expensive, high-class business.
The documentary was difficult to watch because the editing and narrative were disjointed and confusing. Modern day interviews were juxtaposed with shots of Tower participating in merry activities (such as snorkeling, yachting, and shopping) while talking about how sorry he feels for himself, which were combined with mysterious shots of the ruins and dream-like sequences of childhood flashbacks. The film also switched back and forth between time periods without explanation, jumping back to unrelated events that took place in the 1980s, then forward to 2014, then back again. When the documentary discussed the “Stars” and “Tavern on the Green” restaurants, the filmmakers for the most part focused on one linear time period and theme—and those parts were the most enjoyable to watch.
It would have been an infinitely more enjoyable film if they had edited in a linear, sensible manner and scrapped the clichéd, melodramatic shots of Tower gazing pensively over the Mexican landscape. Tower also, while clearly an influential genius, is not a relatable or particularly likable person, and the film could have done more to humanize him. You will learn much if you watch this documentary, but you will also likely leave the theater confused and annoyed.