The history of one of America’s greatest institutions is told in this behind the scenes documentary. “Live From New York” showcases how Saturday Night Live has been reflecting and influencing the American news stories for 40 years. Director Boo Nguyen explores the show’s early years, with an experiment from a young Lorne Michaels and his cast of unknowns, and follows its evolution into a comedy revolution.
As an avid fan of documentaries, i was looking forward to seeing the treatment given to the longest running television show of all time. What disappointed me was just how basic and safe that this documentary played it, considering there is lots of behind the scenes controversies to be told. It doesn’t exactly educate the audience on anything that we haven’t already heard. This presents the film in a commercial light, more than an experimental one. There are some solid cameo interviews by past SNL cast mates like Chris Rock, Lorraine Newman, and Jimmy Fallon. One truly tragic atmosphere to these interviews is that you realize most of the people being discussed are no longer with us. “Live From New York” didn’t really take us into that lethal seduction of the results of some of the consequences cause by such a fame of being on every television set every week. The movie instead decided to offer nothing for the longtime dedicated viewer, and really focus more on the younger fans who aren’t as familiar in some of the origin stories.
The good news is that a lot of this is done with some of the very best editing background for the details being mentioned in narrated interviews. There is a lot of really culture reflective shots of New York during the time of each era discussion. This, combined with the quick cuts of some of SNL’s most memorable sketches, results in a very nice trip down nostalgia lane for the audience. The movie clocks in at a meager 80 minutes, and i really think this could’ve been stretched with over 40 years of material to speak on. It feels too rushed and even sloppy at times when it skips over generations that could’ve made for the best stories. For instance, i am one of few people who is a fan of the dark ages of SNL. This would be from 1981-1985, and it was during that time that some of the most meaningful struggles were going on. This feature skips over all of that, and treats that era as an unspeakable growth on a blemish free exterior. I know this not because of “Live From New York”, but instead from “Live From New York: An Unauthorized Biography”, the book about some of SNL’s greatest behind the scenes battles. That is what ultimately plagued this film for me; the fact that I know there are better material sources out there to shock and awe. I don’t really care as much about the hiring process for Lorne Michaels first cast in 1975 nearly as much as i care about the drug laced parties that were going on after every show.
“Live From New York” is too clean of a documentary to ever take these kind of risks. It was definitely a project that was played very close to the hearts of those at the show, and it’s a shame that those loyalties really handicapped this project. I would instead recommend the book that i spoke of in this review. This documentary feels like a live episode that is always done on seven second delay. A moral crime discussed to the audience of this documentary as “Lying to our audience”.