2015 represents the 40th anniversary of the television landmark comedy sketch series, Saturday Night Live, and Hot Docs was fortunate enough to host the international premiere of Bao Nguyen’s film that takes a look at the culture that surrounded, followed and influenced the show.
Nguyen openly admits that this is far from the definitive history of the program, instead, to me, it feels like a beautiful, glossy, coffee table book of a film that takes a look at the series through a very specific angle, that of popular culture. In its early days, a number of the writers and performers, coming from the success of the satirical National Lampoon, created a program under the guidance of Lorne Michaels that would have biting political satire, and skewer any subject in a completely no-partisan way, as long as it was funny.
The film moves fluidly from the early run of 1975 to 80, which, at the end of the season saw the departure of the original cast and crew, and the show began to be more of a follower of culture instead of leading and skewering it, until Michaels return in 85, when he revitalized it.
Filled with interviews from cast members from all the casts, its numerous hosts to its crew and writers’ room, there are moments spent with all of them, as they discuss the show’s relevance, its impact, and the thrill of producing and performing in live television, an art they are keeping alive.
Saturday Night Live over its tenure, and with Don Pardo’s voice heralding its arrival, has become as much a symbol as Americana as baseball and apple pie, a last bastion of edgy and raw comedy, that has gone on to inspire thousands of comedian, its staple, Weekend Update served as the basis of the modern comedy news programs like Colbert and the Daily Show. At its best, the show is edgy, satirical and brilliantly funny, and not afraid to confront controversy, as evidenced by a bit by Leslie Jones.
A training ground for some amazing comedy, that over its time has seen the best and brightest in comedy both as casts and hosts, Chevy Chase, Kristen Wiig, Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Jane Curtin, Alec Baldwin, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler… the list can go on and on, as the documentary could have as well. At 90 minutes it seems far too short, and merely served to whet my appetite to learn and see more.
It touches briefly on the Boys’ Club nature that seemed to permeate the writers room, the need for diversity in its cast and writing, teaching America to laugh again after 9/11, and the undeniable importance of a venue and platform for a commentary on our social and political actions.
The film sadly does not screen again during the festival, but will be shown at a few more festivals over the course of the year, as well as on-air as the 40th anniversary kicks into high gear, so keep your eyes open as this is must-see viewing!