Peter Sellers was one of the most talented comedic actors in cinematic history. By most accounts, he was a pretty awful person in both his private and professional life. His behavior hindered or derailed many productions. The documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers examines his effect on the 1973 comedy Ghost in the Noonday Sun.
Both the documentary and its subject film are directed by Peter Medak, providing an intimate perspective on the material. The Ghost of Peter Sellers occupies a fairly unique place in cinematic lore. Medak interviews several people involved with the original film, providing a rare look behind the curtains into the messy world of show business.
Medak’s great triumph lies in his ability to craft a compelling narrative that doesn’t require the audience to have seen Ghost in the Noonday Sun. After watching the documentary, you may not want to. Noonday Sun looks like a complete and utter disaster from both behind that camera and in front of it, but Medak consistently keeps things interesting, examining the Cyprus location and the various geographical issues presented.
The documentary works as both a vanity project and a valuable piece of film history. Medak is pretty open about how the film continues to haunt him, having played a major role in the downturn of his career. The narrative of the documentary essentially follows him on his path to catharsis, retracing the original film’s various disasters. Medak is an affable figure to watch, conversing with his subjects in a way that’s easy to follow.
As the title suggests, Sellers is the film’s true villain. His behavior on set is outlined in great detail, with most of the subjects backing up Medak’s account of the events. One of Sellers’ own daughters is even interviewed, providing further perspective on her troubled father.
Medak does take care to provide a balanced perspective of Sellers, an immensely complicated figure. He includes a few intimate stories of their interactions, the kind of stuff that biopics about Sellers have dramatized for years. There’s a weird sense of affection present that enriches the documentary.
It’s a fair question to wonder how much of the documentary would be different under the steward of a less biased director. Medak is quite open, but he’s also human. He takes responsibility for being the captain of the ship, not blaming everything on Sellers, but it remains difficult to pinpoint how much of his career trajectory was hindered by the film.
The Ghost of Peter Sellers is a real treat of a documentary perfect for Sellers diehards and film aficionados. Medak didn’t have the career he would have liked, directing few feature films after Noonday. It is quite interesting to watch him retrace the footsteps of his career and the shadow that continues to haunt him.