e street film society

“Live from New York!” Movie Review by Daniel Barnes

Live from New York!Live from New York! (2015; Bao Nguyen)

GRADE: C

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens today in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael.

WIFE: It’s a revolution!

HUSBAND: It’s an institution!

WIFE: It’s a revolution!

HUSBAND: It’s an institution!

WIFE: It’s a revolution, I’m telling you!

HUSBAND: It’s an institution, you cow!

SPOKESMAN: Hey, calm down, you two. Saturday Night Live is both a revolution and an institution!

Which really means that it’s neither. Even Lorne Michaels claims that the long-running TV sketch comedy is “nonpartisan.”  Ever heard of a nonpartisan revolution?  Meanwhile, the idea of Saturday Night Live as a flag-waving American institution only brings to mind the joke about aging prostitutes.

Bao Nguyen’s slick but surface-level documentary Live from New York! offers a bounty of rare behind-the-scenes material that should appease the show’s hardcore fans.  However, it’s just a smokescreen for the film’s timid, company-line approach.

The established narrative gets followed to the letter, and the only acknowledged down period in SNL’s forty-year history came in the early 1980s (when Michaels wasn’t involved, of course).  Despite this, the show is also described as being in a constant state of revitalization.

Superficial and self-serving Boomer insights abound (“The 70s was great! People used to go to New York to make it!”  Yeah, that’s been a thing since the late 1800s), while anti-establishment hepcats like Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams and Al Gore attest to the show’s enduring satirical relevance.  At the same time, every hard-hitting question about institutionalized racism and sexism comes with its own readymade apologia and perfectly cherry-picked clip.  Also: 9/11, 9/11, the Twin Towers, 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, 9/11, and 9/11, and did we mention 9/11?

“It was a weird time to skewer American politics,” says Michaels.  So much for the revolution.

Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.