featured Ornette Coleman as a musical guest, Saturday Night Live has a claim to coolness nobody can ever take
away from it. Unfortunately, the show is a pale shadow of what it once was.
Where did it go wrong? Do not look for an answer from Bao Nguyen’s documentary,
since it refuses to acknowledge any slippage in the show’s cultural currency.
Instead, expect several rounds of back-patting when Live from New York! (trailer here) screens at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
Live duly chronicles
the show’s creation story, largely from Lorne Michaels’ perspective and spends
a fair amount of time with the surviving original cast-members. However, the
only skits they really analyze are Chevy Chase’s bumbling Gerald Ford impressions.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus then apologizes for how bad the show was during Michaels’
five year absence—before the film hastens to celebrate Dana Carvey and Will
Farrell’s impressions of the respective Presidents Bush. Eventually, it stutter-steps
to the one high-point: the first show broadcast after September 11th,
as remembered by Michaels and Giuliani. It shows how SNL can capture the sentiments of the City when it tries.
Live is not merely shallow. It is a
nauseating combination of self-congratulatory narcissism periodically
interrupted by bouts of self-flagellation for not being more racially and ethnically
inclusive over the years. Of course, they take great self-serving efforts to call
out their new and improved line-up, but the obvious lack of a Hmong cast-member
suggests they still plagued by extensive institutional racism.
give you an idea of the film’s editorial focus, its de facto centerpiece sequence
revolves around the twitter reaction to Leslie Jones jokes about her
hypothetical sex life if she were a slave. Right now, you’re probably wondering
who is Leslie Jones? To put this in perspective, the doc has nothing to say
about the Coneheads, the Killer Bees, the Wild and Crazy Guys, Mr. Bill, Father
Guido Sarducci, Deep Thoughts, Buckwheat, Ed Grimley, the Liar, “You Look
Marvelous” Fernando, Charles Rocket dropping the F-bomb, or Elvis Costello
pulling a set-list switcheroo, whereas Jones’ twitter feed represents the show’s
defining moment. That’s just sad.
would be a disappointment as a DVD extra, but it
was inexplicably chosen to open this year’s festival. The fact that it presents
Brian Williams as an authority on the show’s wider significance without a trace
of irony is tragically embarrassing. Yet in a way, it is so politically
incorrect and deeply in denial, it is exactly the sort of docu-treatment the current
incarnation of the show deserves. Not recommended, Live from New York! screens again next Friday (4/24) and the
following Saturday (4/25) as part of this year’s Tribeca. Watch the 1979 show
surreally featuring Coleman as musical guest and Milton Berle as host, instead.
Labels: Documentary, Saturday Night Live, Tribeca '15