New Anthony Bourdain doc slammed for using an AI version of his voice

‘We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.’
Published July 16, 2021 10:01 a.m. EST
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The new Anthony Bourdain documentary, Roadrunner, dropped on Friday, and already fans are less than thrilled over the project thanks to a controversial choice by filmmaker Morgan Neville.

In the movie, which traces Bourdain’s impact on culinary culture three years after his death by suicide at the age of 61, Neville used stitched-together clips of Bourdain from interviews, podcasts and other recordings to narrate. However there are other points in the film, including one in which Bourdain is reading his own email out loud, where Neville used A.I. technology to recreate his voice.

“There were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville told The New Yorker of creating the A.I. voice model. “If you watch the film, other than [that email] you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know. We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

Neville may have wanted to wait until later, but fans and critics online were quick with their thoughts—especially since the A.I. technology wasn’t disclosed in the film itself. Many people were creeped out by the revelation, while others definitely wondered about the morals of it all.

Neville hasn’t responded to the critics at time of press, but he did open up to GQ about the process in a separate interview. In it, he revealed that they worked with four companies and fed more than 10 hours of the late chef’s voice into the model before deciding on the final product.

“I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that,” Neville said. “And they were like, Tony would have been cool with that. I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.”

Neville is largely known for his work on the Fred Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? as well as the Oscar-winning project 20 Feet from Stardom. In addition to facing criticism for using A.I. to help narrate the film, some early reviewers have also questioned why he failed to interview Bourdain’s last girlfriend, Asia Argento, for the project.

Argento, an Italian actress and filmmaker, was photographed by European tabloids with another man a few days before Bourdain’s death. According to the New Yorker piece, the last thing the chef posted to Instagram before he died was music from the film Violent City, which is about a man trying to exact revenge on the woman who betrayed him.

Neville revealed to Vulture that interviewing Argento would have “been painful for a lot of people,” and it would have distracted from the story he wanted to tell. “It instantly just made people want to ask ten more questions,” Neville added. “It became this kind of narrative quicksand.”

Bourdain became a household name back in 1999 following a career-making essay he wrote for The New Yorker titled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” The essay delved into the dark side of the kitchen and got people thinking about food and eating out in a whole new way. The chef followed that up with the release of Kitchen Confidential in 2000.

Bourdain went on to host a slew of shows, including A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and his final series, Parts Unknown. The chef was shooting an episode of that last series when his body was discovered in a French hotel room in June 2018. 

 

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