Combustible Celluloid
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Alec Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Al Franken, Rudolph Giuliani, Ralph Nader, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Lorne Michaels
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Bao Nguyen
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 82
Date: 06/12/2015

Live from New York! (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Isn't That Special?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bao Nguyen's documentary Live from New York! makes the case that TV's "Saturday Night Live," which began in 1975 and recently celebrated its 40th year, has, in its own way, documented that portion of American history. Yet the documentary's own scant 82 minutes hardly has enough time to support this thesis in any but a most cursory way; it's a subject deserving, perhaps, of a long PBS mini-series. But there's still enough here to make it worth a watch, especially given the high caliber of interview subjects and the (still funny) clips.

Nguyen begins quickly with an assessment of the show's sexual and racial politics. In the show's first year, it had three women (Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, and Laraine Newman) and one black man (Garrett Morris). Curtin is here, saying that she felt like an equal, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus says that, in later years, she felt like she was in a "boys' club" and didn't have much of an opportunity (although she also confesses that she began the show without being entirely ready for it). Morris, as well as show creator/producer Lorne Michaels, admit that he did not have very much to do. Chris Rock is also here, but he doesn't say much about his own experience.

The documentary touches on some of the show's controversial moments, such as Sinead O'Connor ripping up the picture of the Pope, but doesn't add much more than, "yeah... that happened." It spends a large chunk of time on politics, and portrayals of political figures. Dana Carvey talks about how he established the speech patterns of the first George Bush, and Will Ferrell confesses his fears that his doofus version of George W. Bush may have helped the real-life president's popularity. Real-life politicians Al Gore, Ralph Nader, and Rudy Giuliani are interviewed. Perhaps more relevant is the discussion of how the show decided to proceed after the events of 9/11.

It wraps up with a brief acknowledgment of the internet age, and how short clips like Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg's masterpiece "Lazy Sunday" (or Samberg and Justin Timberlake's "Dick in a Box") began to go viral online. (Samberg is interviewed here.)

Other interviews include Chevy Chase (looking quite unwell), Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph (who talk about their women-power era on the show), frequent hosts (Alec Baldwin), musical guests (Paul Simon), and some of the show's writers and other behind-the-scenes talent (Robert Smigel, Al Franken, Akira Yoshimura, etc.).

The movie doesn't have time for any full-length clips. It ignores so many things, including the roles of the guest hosts or the musical guests, and it leaves out entire seasons. (Eddie Murphy's remarkable achievements only warrant a single mention.) It also doesn't spend very much time going behind the scenes of any particular episode, showing us just how much work goes into the show. But what's here is still worth a few smiles and a couple of laughs.

Hulu Castle Rock SVOD