Carol Channing has spent most of her career cultivating a character (some might even say "caricature") known as Carol Channing. That character -- daffy, giddy, exuberant, saucer-eyed, gravel voiced, platinum wigged, with a smear of bright red lipstick -- may or may not have much in common with the real Carol Channing. But she sure is fun to watch, which is the point of Dori Bernstein's Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, a joyful documentary that doesn't really explore its subject so much as present it. So, if you're looking for insight into what makes Channing tick or even some sense of how she lives you may be disappointed. The well-publicized difficulties in her 40 year marriage to Charles Lowe? Glossed over. The fact that she has a son to whom she doesn't speak? Ignored. Her career after Hello, Dolly? Unexplained. But what we do get is the pleasure of watching this bizarre, delightful and wholly unique creature do her thing, both on stage and off. Much of the film is given to tender footage of Channing with her current husband, Harry Kulligian, her high school sweetheart with whom she was reunited in 2003. And there are appreciations from the likes of Lily Tomlin, Bruce Vilanch and Debbie Reynolds. But mostly, this film exists to bask in the shimmer Channing casts, be it with her rhinestones or the 1000-watt smile that blossoms whenever an audience is near. On that score, it does not disappoint.
-- EDDIE SHAPIRO
Carol Channing: Larger Than Life will screen at Outfest on Sunday, July 10.
For a full list of films playing at Outfest, click here. To read our Outfest 2011 roundtable with directors, writers, and actors featured in the festival, click here.