DVD Review: Whirlybird

STUDIO: Greenwhich/Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Matt Yoka
RELEASE DATE: Available now | PRICE: DVD $19.99
SPECS: NR | 103 min. | Documentary

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie   | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

Look! Up in the shy! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a helicopter!

And not just any old helicopter…

It’s a sleek, state-of-the art air machine commandeered by reporter and pilot Bob Tur and his wife/cameraperson Marika Gerrard. Their beat was the skies over Los Angeles during the 1980s and 90s, when aerial coverage of breaking news events in the area was in its infancy and there was a whole lot for them to set their sites on: riots, fires, secret celebrity weddings and, of course, the July day in 1974 when a white Ford Bronco with O.J. Simpson drew international attention as it led police on a 60 mile chase down the San Diego Freeway.

Whirlybird is a fascinating movie about a revolutionary new niche in journalism and the gutsy married couple who turned a unique idea into a thriving business by launching their own private news service. The film is also an unflinching survey of a marriage tearing apart at the seams, how a troubled past can impact  someone years later, and how extreme behavior can lead to difficult life-changing decisions before it’s too late.

Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard take to the skies in Whirlybird.

Director Matt Yoka outlines the toxically aggressive Bob and gentle Marika’s life, from their childhood years to dating days and their subsequent marriage, then to the launching of their helicopter enterprise and the birth of their daughter Katy (now an MSNBC host) and son James (now a doctor). Sifting through thousands of hours of tapes saved by Bob Tur, Yoka presents a comprehensive view his subjects’ lives, from the deeply personal to the publicly news-making. Sadly, the latter footage includes several instances where Bob’s obsessive rants in the heat of tracking down a story end with him berating and demeaning wife Marika, who is attempting to do her best job under extreme circumstances.

Changes eventually occur in the Tur family’s life when TV stations realize the importance of aerial coverage in the highway-dependent Los Angeles area, prompting them to begin their own helicopter coverage and thus threatening the future of Bob and Marika’s expensive enterprise. And Bob recognizes that he needs a radical transformation and decides to transition and become “Zoe Tur” in the hopes of settling the serious emotional issues he’s been grappling with for years.

Whirlybird, which took filmmaker Yoka years to put together, is a no-holds-barred portrait of family attempting to live the American dream but, while on a wild, envelope-pushing ride to achieve their goal, are confronted by demons from the past. It’s a roller-coaster ride all the way, not just for its sensational footage taken over the skies of L.A. but also for its depiction of the emotional scars administered to those taking the trip.

Fasten your seatbelts. You’re in for a bumpy but deeply moving ride.

Buy or Rent Whirlybird

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.