Thursday 24 September 2015

London Film Festival 2015: Live from New York!

Live from New York was made just on time to coincide with Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary, and will be a very different experience if viewed by an American audience as opposed to a foreign one. A comedy show with a record breaking longevity, and which has seen some of the best talent go through its door, everybody outside the USA has at heard from the show, or is at least familiar with its alumni, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd etc... whereas it is a real institution in its home country.

This documentary is a celebration of SNL's history and its achievements and the main complaint the audience will have about it is that it is far too short at 82mn, an unusual grievance considering the trend for bloated running time. It follows a classic format of talking heads and archive footage, and considering its less than cinematic values, this project would have worked far better as a TV serie stretched through several parts, to really get under the skin of its subject. This is all the more frustrating as the production was given great access to many cast members, past and present, and even some illustrious special guests such as Al Gore.

Which leads to a second complaint: it is very obvious that this documentary was made with the assistance of SNL's creator/producer Lorne Michaels, and as such, is almost too reverential, and while the issue of the show's problem with diversity (and the continuous lack of female and multi ethnic cast members) is approached, it is obvious that it is within the boundaries of what the show's makers are willing to discuss.

Having said that, Live from New York remains tremendously entertaining, with some classic episodes being evoked (even if I wish we had seen more of, well everything!). Starting off in the mid 70's when political satire or even criticism was pretty much non existent, Saturday Night Live was a breathe of fresh air, and had five fantastic years with the original cast. And there is something rather fascinating about this pre-neo liberal era, watching it now as such a distant memory. The director then skims over most of the 80's, arguably a low point as the decade went on, until the show found its mojo again in the 90's/00's, with Bill Clinton and its embarrassing mishaps, then later on with Sarah Palin, whose picture perfect impersonation made Tina Fey a household name.

What made its success, as explained in the documentary, was the way it has always rewarded its audience for "getting" its references, political or others, but never punished them otherwise. And, for what I can gather considering how little of the actual shows I have seen, it never fell into the trap of cynicism, like too many political satires in the U.K., and had a real heart beneath the laughters and lampooning, as evidenced by the show's impeccable handling of 9/11's immediate aftermath.


Live from New York! USA 2015. Directed by Bao N'Guyen. Starring Alec Baldwin, Jane Curtin, Dana Carvey, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell etc...

Live from New York is screening at the London Film Festival on the 10th and 11th of October. To book tickets and for more info, click here

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