Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed, Written, Director of Photography & Edited by: Rick McKay.
Produced by: Rick McKay & Albert M. Tapper
Released by: Dada Films.
Country of Origin: USA. 111 min. Not Rated.
With: Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Ben Gazzara, Uta Hagen, Julie Harris, Angela Lansbury, Michele Lee, Charles Nelson Reilly & Gena Rowlands.

This talking-head extravaganza, a valentine to Broadway babies as well as post-War New York, sets out to answer the question, did the Golden Age of Broadway really exist. Impressively, first-time filmmaker Rick McKay interviews quite a cast of luminaries, mostly actors. Their anecdotes of struggle and backstage drama are thoroughly engaging, from Carol Burnett’s camaraderie with her roommates to Gretchen Wyler’s big break; having gone from understudy to star, she’s an example of being at the right place at the right time.

Regarding the revolution in the style of acting, Marlon Brando is, predictably, singled out. Martin Landau, describing Brando in Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, declares “You can smell the armpits.” But also honored is the not-as-well-known Kim Stanley and Laurette Taylor, who originated the role of Amanda Wingfield in William’s The Glass Menagerie. Among her admirers are Marian Seldes and Ben Gazzara, who says “Her impact changed acting.” A departure in her day, Taylor was, according to Landau, like “a woman who had found her way into the theatre” off the street. Included is rare footage of Taylor's failed screen test.

Informative and humorous, this documentary is a look at show business through rose-colored glasses (turkeys are ignored), offering little in perspective. It simply paints a way of life before pop culture changed in the late 1960s. Little is mentioned of pre-war theatre. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some chorus girls, à la the Ziegfield Follies, bemoaning the rise of the book musicals). But it’s no wonder these reminisces tend to be glowing, considering those interviewed have had distinguished careers. Though one fact that goes unmentioned is that many who made their mark in the 1950s left New York for the West Coast - such as Gena Rowlands, Shirley MacLaine, and later, Michele Lee. What was Hollywood’s gain may have been New York’s loss. Nevertheless, the conversation never lags, even when much of the footage is amateurishly shot - Uta Hagen is filmed from a particularly unflattering angle. Except for its production values, Broadway could be a segment in the PBS series Great Performances, and is a must for Inside the Actors Studio followers. Kent Turner
June 11, 2004



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