×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca Film Review: ‘Live From New York!’

An amorphous, superficial but sporadically very funny recap of 40 years of 'SNL' and American history in a surprisingly conventional form.

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.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4355574/

Admittedly, cramming 40 years of “Saturday Night Live” — or rather, 40 years of American history — into 82 minutes is a daunting task, particularly as it forces a documentary to chart the symbiotic relationship between real-life fact and contemporaneous farce. But despite some judiciously chosen excerpts from great comic bits, Bao Nguyen’s “Live From New York!” turns out to be as much a collection of soundbites as one might expect from the mainstream media that the show originally set out to satirize. Amorphous, superficial and sporadically very funny, this Tribeca Film Festival opener should delight if not enlighten the show’s myriad fans.

Though Nguyen posits a throughline, saying that what started out as a calculated subversion of societal sacred cows wound up as a revered American institution itself, the documentary comes off as too much of an apologia to fully follow its own logic. The film’s problematic dynamic is visible from the get-go in introductory shots where the camera reverently pans past empty seats at 30 Rock as ghost echoes of renowned one-liners (“two wild and crazy guys … ,” etc.) reverberate with a near-religious intensity. Soon afterward, creator/producer Lorne Michaels, early “SNL” scribe Ann Beatts, original cast member Chevy Chase and others describe their initially iconoclastic, quite non-reverential intent (“a variety show on acid,” ”a cross between ’60 Minutes’ and Monty Python,” “It was time to destroy TV”).

Live From New York!” does a credible job of covering the show’s initial impact, a clip from Tom Snyder’s latenight broadcast where he cluelessly introduces the then-unknown cast being a case in point. But Nguyen quickly steers the film into political channels, which would be fine if it didn’t lose much of its comedic edge as a result. Why tap a polarizing pundit like Bill O’Reilly, of all people, to lead into an apolitical, purely improvisational clip of Gilda Radner chewing up the scenery as “Rosanne Rosannadanna”? Comments from longstanding “SNL” gag man and current Minnesota Sen. Al Franken — particularly those concerning the possible effect of Darrell Hammond’s and Will Ferrell’s respective depictions of Al Gore and George W. Bush on the 2000 presidential election — would resonate more strongly if accompanied by at least one clip from Franken’s hilarious “Me, Al Franken” self-promotions on “Weekend Update.”

A ’70s clip of Candice Bergen announcing herself as the show’s “first woman host” and alluding to the failure of the Equal Right Amendment — which occurred one mere week earlier — validates “SNL’s” reputation as a “living, breathing time capsule” and leads to discussions of the show’s lack of diversity in terms of race and gender. These criticisms, often shruggingly dismissed as anomalies and signs of the times, were best addressed in a self-satirical manner — as in a relatively recent sketch where guest host Kerry Washington, playing Michelle Obama, had to leave the set and come back dressed as Oprah Winfrey because of the underrepresentation of black women in the cast.

Michaels, drawn into controversy in clips from “Nightline” and elsewhere, increasingly asserts, “It’s important we stay nonpartisan.” Yet the film, even while voicing the show’s shift from critic to incarnation of the Establishment, falls into its own trap and completely misses its own point when it presents “SNL’s” embrace of Rudy Giuliani after 9/11 with a teary fervor that may have been excusable at the time, but now feels somewhat suspect.

Frequent cutaways to former hosts and cast members keep the film moving briskly, even if the absence of the acerbic Bill Murray seems a commentary in and of itself. Though “SNL” music guru Hal Willner offers a tantalizing survey of New York’s vital late-’70s music scene (in voiceover), Nguyen’s documentary later largely steers clear of the subject; the raw, live spectacle of the Pope-shredding Sinead O’Conner remains uneasily under-discussed. Particularly puzzling is the way the film completely ignores the show’s impact on the movie business, suggesting the narrowness of its concept of politics. In the end, “Live From New York!” registers as simultaneously too outsider and too insider — a perfect definition of mainstream media itself.

Tribeca Film Review: 'Live From New York!'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (opener), April 15, 2014. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An Abramorama release of a JumpLine presentation of a BehindTheLine production. Produced by JL Pomeroy, Kimmie H. Kim, Sarah Cowperthwaite, Owen Moogan. Executive producers, Pomeroy, Tom Broecker.

Crew: Directed by Bao Nguyen. Camera (color, HD), Caleb Heller, Nguyen; editors, Mari Keiko Gonzales, David Osit; music, Lenny Pickett; sound, Allan Zaleski; consulting producer, Dolly Hall; associate producer, Demetra Stavrakas.

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.

More Film

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. More Reviews Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' [...]

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high-profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a lineup that, as usual, features an eclectic grab-bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April 13 and [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content