Dolly Parton and Kelly Clarkson have joined forces with producer Shane McAnally to record a very different version of the Parton classic “9 to 5” as a duet for an upcoming documentary, “Still Working 9 to 5,” just announced for a premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March.
The documentary’s premiere at SXSW was announced Wednesday morning, but for the filmmakers, the new recording by Parton and Clarkson counts as a big reveal, too. “We could do a documentary just on the making of the duet,” co-director/producer Gary Lane tells Variety.
Of announcing the song as well as film, Lane adds, “It almost feels like launching two projects in one.”
This new version of the theme song from the original “9 to 5” movie has a distinctly different tone from the original. “The first iteration, Dolly’s original version was very upbeat. There was a lot of hope I would say in the song,” says co-director/producer Camille Hardman. “And this version is just a little bit melancholic,” she notes, in deference to one of the themes of the doc, “that women are still trying to get equality and it hasn’t happened yet, 42 years after this song was created.”
The original plan was to ask Parton to do a new song for the doc, but McAnally had an idea for doing a refresher on “9 to 5” and, months later, created a demo that its singer-songwriter fell in love with. Parton and Clarkson recorded their parts in November and December, and filmed themselves in the studio as well for a forthcoming music video.
“Dolly actually called it ‘9 to 5: The Slow Version’,” says Lane. “It’s definitely slowed down and more haunting. Kelly — you can’t believe how she changes it, too. It’s really mind blowing.” He recalls playing it right after both vocals were finished to Steve Summers, Parton’s creative director and an executive producer on the film. “Steve said, ‘I’ve probably heard that song a thousand times, and I really never heard the words to the song till I heard them right there.'”
McAnally’s Smack Songs and label, Monument Records, will partner on the rollout for the song, which could come in May; attendees at the four SXSW screenings will get to hear it first.
The doc features interviews with original film cast members Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman, as well as actors and creatives from the 2009 Broadway version, like Allison Janney and Megan Hilty, and participants in the 2019 U.K. revival, which was happening when filming got underway. Rita Moreno, who starred in a 1980s sitcom adaptation, also appears.
Participants from the original film talk about their goal at the time, dealing with serious issues of women in the workplace, but “how do you make a film that is not going to be a hardcore feminist film, that can go out to a wide audience?” Hardman says they walked that same line with this doc, in bringing in ongoing women’s issues.
“It was a very difficult film to make,” says Hardman, “because it was the women’s movement in tandem with the fandom of ‘9 to 5’ and all the different iterations and how they overlapped. It was very important to make a documentary that kept that feeling in mind, where they used comedy to tell a very serious story. A documentary is not a comedy, but we wanted to make sure we had a sense of humor in our film, so it was entertaining as well as being educational, because we’re catering to many different audiences.”
Hardman credits Parton with being the first of the original “9 to 5” cast members to agree to participate in the project, which led the others to sign on as well. It didn’t hurt that Lane and his brother Larry Lane, an executive producer on the new film, had previously done the personal documentary “Hollywood to Dollywood,” in which Parton had ultimately been an enthusiastic participant.
At least eight existing Parton songs were licensed for the film, including several from her score for the Broadway musical as well as feminist-leaning songs from her catalog like “Just Because I’m a Woman.”