Roll Call After Dark Documentary of the Week: ‘Road Scholar’
Posted at 8:28 a.m. on Aug. 11, 2014
It’s August, when many people take vacation and are lured by the open road. “Road Scholar,” Roger Weisberg’s 1993 chronicle of Andrei Codrescu’s journey across America in a red Cadillac, is the perfect documentary to illustrate what could lay ahead: fast food, kitschy motels, machine guns and an exploration of what it means to be an American.
Codrescu, the long-time NPR commentator, reporter, novelist, essayist, poet, professor and editor, was born in Transylvania, Romania, one of his claims to fame, as he states at the beginning of the movie. His other? That he doesn’t drive, which he remedies by not only getting a drivers license but using it to take what he views as that most American of things: the cross-country road trip.
Along the way, he traces the paths not just of Americana but his own immigrant roots. He came to the United States in the 1960s, a political refugee, and landed in the most car-centric city of all: Detroit. His return to the Motor City is a sad one, with the decay that continues to define the city taking hold in the early 1990s.
It’s not all sad. Codrescu’s wry narrative, which helped the documentary win a Peabody award, navigates the American landscape with humor and affection. Years before Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” made some of these rounds, Codrescu paved the way, without having to fake the accent.
When Codrescu’s journey ends, in San Francisco at a citizenship ceremony he helps conduct, it’s a poignant moment that fits well into today’s debate on immigration. His own journey, from Romania to the United States, from New Orleans to San Francisco, shows the potential, accomplishment, absurdity and fun messiness of the American experience.
Plus, you get to listen to that awesome accent for a good hour and a half.