B.ob Ross: Happy accidents, betrayal & greed sounds like the title of a parody of true crime that promises a gritty and somber version of the life of one of America’s happiest – and most beloved – artistic figures. That said, there’s nothing funny about Joshua Rofé’s Aug. 25 Netflix documentary, which serves as both an affectionate portrait of the landscape painter who inspired millions to pick up the brush, and a daunting synopsis of the different types of work he did and legacy , were exploited by the selfish partners closest to him.
Rofé’s film pays homage primarily to a caring, ambitious man who went from humble roots to a unique (that Afro!) Ubiquitous presence on American public television. As his son Steve, his good friend Dana Jester, his film director Sally Schenck and his first instructor John Thamm have told us, Ross did not always seem destined for fame. After joining the Air Force at the age of 18, Ross gradually developed his love for painting. The moment that first changed his life came when he met Bill Alexanders The magic of oil painting on TV. Impressed with Alexander’s ability to complete paintings in the course of a single episode using a quick wet-on-wet technique (also known as “alla prima”), Ross began training and made his own paintings on gold digger pans. After a short time he found Alexander, who made him his de facto apprentice.
Ross then taught in some of the numerous workshops Alexander held across the country (his television show was primarily a way of guiding students to his money-making program). It was there that Ross met Annette and Walt Kowalski, a couple who were enthusiastic about the young artist. They advised Ross to start their own business, and in doing so they became the business people behind the Bob Ross phenomenon who would take off once they got a deal on the PBS series (The joy of painting), which should run from 1983 to 1994. For a while this scheme worked perfectly and everyone benefited. But according to the documentary, trouble was brewing, beginning with Ross’ alleged affair with Annette behind the back of his second wife Jane – which Annette still denies to this day – and then with increasing demands from the Kowalskis for Ross to prioritize profit over everything else.
While his talent for landscapes was impressive, Ross became a sensation thanks to his personality in the style of Fred Rogers. About numerous clips from The joy of painting, Rofé captures the gentle, optimistic spirit of his subject. In a calming voice that often flirted with sensuality – as if his comments about “caressing” the screen were meant to be more adult – Ross peppered his episodes with encouraging words about the ability of everyone to be creative and expressive, including those who could consider themselves unsuitable for the company; In what is perhaps the most touching excerpt from the archive, Ross paints a snow-white and gray landscape to prove to a fan that even color-blind people can paint. His message was one of courage, self-confidence, independence and resilience – the latter was the core of his conviction that there are no mistakes, only “happy coincidences” from which one can always learn something valuable.
In the same way as Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed Ross reveres, it blames the Kowalskis, portrayed here as a mysterious couple whose habit of suing people is so ingrained that more than a dozen people who knew and worked with Ross turned down Rofé’s film. Since Walt and Annette also refuse to appear on camera, no counter-arguments are put forward for them, and the story Scott and Dana have to tell about the duo’s behavior after Ross’ death from cancer in 1995 is decidedly unflattering. According to them, and first reported by The Daily Beast, the Kowalskis spent most of Ross’ last year getting him to sign the rights to his name and likeness, and when he died they – through Bob sued Ross, Inc. for getting what they wanted, urging Ross’ half-brother Jim and third wife Lynda to comply with their requests, and closing down fellow hobby artisans Gary and Kathwren Jenkins (whose specialty was flower painting).
“To the extent that ‘Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed’ reveres Ross, it blames the Kowalskis, portrayed here as a mysterious couple whose practice of suing people is so ingrained that more than a dozen people who knew and worked with Ross, declined to participate in Rofé’s film.”
In the past 26 years, the film claims, Scott hasn’t seen a penny of the millions from his father, despite Ross allegedly intending that his son and half-brother be the joint beneficiaries of his intellectual property rights. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed is thus the story of a warm-hearted soul who seems to be exploited for life and death by those who only valued it as a means of making money. Scott and Dana’s disgusted and sometimes tearful comment on this turn of events is convincing enough to cause a fair bit of outrage at this sad state of affairs. Steve tried to combat this injustice by suing the Kowalskis (through a new company called RSR Art), but it failed, and in Rofé’s documentary Steve – with long thinning hair, a gray goatee and a weathered face – looks like it would be crushed by tragic loss and predatory injustice.
As with its predecessor Sasquatch and Lorena, Rofé fluently interweaves old video and audio material, recent interviews recorded in various locations, and impressive recovery sequences – in this case, stationary Ross-like paintings of events narrated by its speakers – to capture the various angles of his saga. Despite its somewhat misleading title that is technically correct but suggests more sensationalism that the film delivers, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed conveys the ruthlessness of capitalist ventures, especially when one can earn immeasurable wealth with a star and the countless t-shirts, pajamas, lunch boxes and chia pets (Pooh) who can sell their name and face. If anything, Ross is as popular today as ever – if not more so, as a late montage of contemporary pop culture shout-outs to the artist (including Deadpool) proves – which ultimately makes Rofé’s exposure of manipulation and stinginess so depressing .