Live From New York!
2015 • 90 minutes • BehindTheLine Productions
If you want to know how Saturday Night Live is made, you have an an embarrassment of riches at your hands. There’s Live From New York!, biographies about former cast members and writers, memoirs by former cast members and writers, the Kenneth Bowser television specials covering every decade of the show, audition tapes, the show’s own anniversary specials (including last year’s three hour extravaganza), James Franco’s student film project slash actual festival film Saturday Night, Tina Fey’s fictionalized take in 30 Rock, and the fact that former head writer Seth Meyers’ writing team on Late Night with Seth Meyers endlessly makes fun of him for talking about Saturday Night Live so much.
But if you want to see what it has made, both intentionally and unintentionally, then you’ll want Live From New York!. (No relation to the recently revised and authoritative oral history.) Bao Nyugen’s documentary may co-produced by Saturday Night Live‘s costume designer Tom Broecker, but it embraces its outsider status to put the show in its historical and cultural context. How does a scrappy variety show that barely expected to last six episodes become an American institution? How has it interacted with, influenced, and been influenced by American culture? Nyugen elegantly makes his thesis statement—that the show and New York (especially a New York) are intertwined in a fascinating symbiotic relationship—in the documentary’s opening credits. He simply runs what looks to be the current Saturday Night Live opening credits sans text, sans performers, and sans music, leaving us panning over the city that’s always been at the root of it, no matter where its performers hail from.