Quality Balls - The David Steinberg Story Barry Avrich
Published May 03, 2013In a way, the works of director Barry Avrich reflect his background in advertising and marketing perfectly, playing as the sort of uninspired and banal, yet image conscious, fluff that keeps the populace placated and economically viable. His docs about Harvey Weinstein, Garth Drabinsky and other various industry acquaintances have been tenuous at best, taking a safe and formulaic approach to telling a very sanitized version of a story. They're like commercials for their subjects more than actual films, playing like an aesthetically crude assemblage of prefab publicity materials forced into a feature, or short, documentary shell.
Quality Balls is no different, claiming to tell the story of David Steinberg while ostensibly just blowing a ridiculous amount of smoke up his ass amidst a series of overly enthused interviews and reiterations of subject genius. It's not necessarily unwarranted, seeing as Steinberg was a vanguard comedian in his time, speaking to the young and disenchanted and pushing the boundaries of propriety, opening doors for generations of comics to come, but it doesn't make for particularly compelling viewing for anyone outside of a very specific lexicon of family, friends and fans.
In structure, Avrich takes the lazy linear approach to documentary storytelling, splicing together interviews with modern comedians and writers—Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Foley, etc.—and the abundance of television footage of Steinberg doing his shtick. His original self-deprecating stand-up material leads into his notorious sermons and improvisational background, which eventually builds up to the single dramatic event of the doc—CBS's cancellation of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour after religious middle-America freaked out about Steinberg's deconstruction of the Jonah myth.
Even this event is watered down with a few broad gags and a reiteration of Steinberg's inherent awesomeness, with a few talking heads even going so far as to assert the supposed sex appeal of the Jewish comedian. By the time things get around to his sitcom-directing career, the same overly flattering mantras have been repeated so often that it becomes white noise.
Resultantly, Quality Balls plays as an insular bit of fluff. It's the sort of party-gift you'd give someone at retirement to make them feel good about their career; something watched once and then left to collect dust in a cabinet. (Nightingale)