17 April 2015 | ClaytonDavis
A documentary forty years in the making is an absolute treasure...
2015 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: NBC's "Saturday Night Live" has become an institution of American television. One line that rings profoundly true in Bao Nguyen's thoroughly entertaining documentary "Live from New York!", about the institution of 30 Rock Plaza, is that people don't speak about what "SNL" means to comedy. Many of us have grown up with it in different ways. For me, it wasn't the 90's that had Molly Shannon and it wasn't the 00's that had Will Ferrell and Tina Fey. Discovering some of their more iconic characters and importance in my later years, I was first formally introduced to SNL just under a decade ago. That's with consistent watching and growing to love a die-hard cast that included Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, and more. It's only now that I go back to the earlier seasons to see people like Cheri Oteri and Horatio Sanz and discovering that their humble beginnings were just in my back yard.
Nguyen provides the opening of a time capsule that SNL producer and creator Lorne Michaels would have hoped for in his over-hyped 40th anniversary celebration that aired in February 2015. Nguyen begins with the first cast of Saturday Night that included then unknowns, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and more. They quickly address the hiatus that Michaels took from the show for five years in the early 1980's. During that time, we get Julia Louis Dreyfus, arguably part of one of the worst cast and years of the iconic show. Now she sits comfortably with half a dozen Emmy Awards and is still skyrocketing with feature films.
Nguyen goes into the struggle for women and their voice on the show. Through interviews with Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, and others, we get an honest and raw insight into the ongoing battle for the female voice on television. To paraphrase a veteran comedian from the film, you know how you know the struggle for the gender equality is still not yet won
because you just asked me that question about it. When the days of Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Maya Rudolph come into play, the doors are open for all types of comedy, from all different perspectives.
The issue of diversity and racism on the show is addressed with a no filters account from the cast members themselves. From original cast member Garrett Morris to recent members like Leslie Jones and Kenan Thompson, the ongoing struggle for diversity and a voice is evident and well-known, though through interviews, you can see that some writers don't see it as a top priority.
The theme of the show and the film is captured in the segments about the September 11th attacks. From the perspectives of former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani, Michaels himself, and many past writers, they recount the dark days following the attack on America. The touching tribute to the fallen heroes, innocent people lost, and the still seemingly real and open wound in some of the cast and crew during the time is a tender, beautiful moment.
"Live from New York!" is one of the rare and very specialized documentaries that touches on a subject so obscure and random like "Saturday Night Live," and gives it a voice. From the musical guests to the many controversies that almost swallowed the show whole, "Live from New York" is an infectious swell of love, humor, and adoration. A dynamite film to watch at the festival!