If you think there couldn’t be much more to be said about Saturday Night Live after the three hour long 40th Anniversary Special that aired back in February, you’re mostly right. That didn’t stop cinematographer (now documentarian) Bao Nguyen from adding more to the mix with Live from New York!, his attempt to capture the social and cultural impact and influence of four decades of the 90 minute late-night broadcast.
Consisting mostly of a series of interviews with former and current cast members and a couple of the “Five Timers Club”, the film breaks little new ground and covers familiar territory to anyone who’s read Tom Shales’s book (“Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live…”) or Doug Hill’s book (“Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live”) or Alison Castle’s recent compendium “Saturday Night Live: The Book” or seen any of the ubiquitous “SNL Decade” specials that run incessantly on VH1. There’s really nothing new regarding the show’s origination, its original casting, Lorne Michaels, etc. It is, however, good to hear Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman counter the usual “boys club” criticism hurled at the show from time to time and for Garret Morris to address his marginalization in the early years.
Current cast members address the recent controversy over the show’s “lack of diversity” but, again, if you’ve read Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone or any number of blogs you pretty much know what’s going on there. There’s also an over-reliance on current cast members for interviews and commentary that gives this film sort of a ‘promotional’ feel to it and less of a sense that it’s a documentary.
You’ve heard or read about most of the other subjects covered – cast changes, firings, the post 9/11 show, presidential debates, etc. What we haven’t seen or heard before is much about the crew and technical artists who’ve worked behind the scenes, some since the first broadcast. Nguyen gives them their due and they deliver with some insight and humor on the backstage goings-on of a live production. He also shows the late Don Pardo the respect a broadcasting legend deserves.
Running a fast 82 minutes (wouldn’t you think the story of a program that’s run 40 years might take a bit longer?) , Live from New York! seems more like a DVD extra than a stand-alone documentary.
Live from New York! opens in San Francisco on June 12th at the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema and in Berkeley at the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas. Check your local listings.