Who is Clark Rockefeller?, which premiered on Lifetime in 2010, is a movie ripped straight from the headlines…of 2008!
It was on TV again last night and even now it remains one of my absolute favorites.
If you’re not familiar with the case, here’s a rundown of the (real) story: back in 2008 some guy got busted after kidnapping his daughter during a custody battle. Everyone knew him as an eccentric member of the ultra-wealthy Rockefeller family, but it was all an elaborate con. His real name? Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter.
We all knew a kid in elementary school who told unbelievable tales — Mr. Max’s standard example is a boy who boasted to the schoolyard that his father was the King of Brazil. When other kids (predictably) noticed that his father was some white dude who ran a carpet store, he clarified that it was actually his uncle who was King of Brazil. When that lie was finally revealed, the kid claimed a mere passing acquaintanceship with the King of Brazil.
So this is basically like that, plus a bunch of money.
We live in Massachusetts, so the local media covered Clark’s arrest relentlessly. Mr. Max, who still speaks a bit of German, came running into the room the first time he talked on camera.
“Come on, a Rockefeller? The guy sounds like a villain from a James Bond movie!”
“Yah, I ist an American citizen.”
It’s still unbelievable to me that “Clark” managed to infiltrate the cliques of the Boston elite so easily, eventually gaining a directorship at the Algonquin Club. Didn’t these people take a foreign language class in prep school?
Ahem, onto the movie. The first great thing about Who is Clark Rockefeller? is that, like all the best lifetime movies, it was filmed in Canada. The characters make plenty of overt references to Boston and New Hampshire landmarks (Yale, Harvard, etc), but the visuals are North Country all the way.
The second great thing is Eric McCormack. Fresh from his long run as a down-to-earth sitcom character, he launches full-tilt into the title role with no restraint whatsoever. His Rockefeller is not just a personality-disordered compulsive liar, but a personality-disordered compulsive liar with flair. Clark strolls around his country estate in a stylish smoking jacket, flits in and out of society parties, rides around town on a Segway, and even relaxes post-sex by playing the… didgeridoo.
I bet you thought I was kidding about the Segway. Also, it looks like Canada.
Sherry Stringfield also puts in a noteworthy performance as Sandra Boss, Rockefeller’s blissfully unaware wife. Even in the face of increasingly over-the-top warning signs, Stringfield maintains a (surprisingly!) believable naiveté.
And the warning signs were definitely there. Why, pray tell, did Clark bounce checks at the liquor store when he owned a collection of priceless modern art? What was his deal with not eating green foods? Why did he keep his social security number a secret? Why was he estranged from his famous family? Did he really speak five languages?
“Yah, I speak five languages: German, Austrian, English with German accent…”
An excellent example of the genre. McCormack’s antics are pretty much laugh-a-minute, and a great drinking game could be devised around Sherry Stringfield’s deer-in-the-headlights reaction shots.
0 hotels! How can you possibly be bored when there’s a didgeridoo involved?