Pass The Popcorn: SNL Doc 'Live From New York' Takes Us Behind 40 Years Of TV Magic On Opening Night Of 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
After 40 years, 141 cast members and countless character assassinations, Saturday Night Live has received its very first documentary treatment in the aptly-titled documentary Live From New York. Premiering at NYC's Beacon Theatre on opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival after a brief intro and trademark face-scrunch from Mr. Tribeca himself (Robert DeNiro,) the film captures just as much of the magic as it does the turmoil, charting the mercurial late-night program's early successes as well as its struggles with remaining relevant and diverse (in terms of race, gender and other terms, too) well into the 21st century. While director Bao Nguyen managed to get ahold of many of the show's most cherished hosts and featured players, there were certainly some conspicuous absences, including Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and most jarringly, Eddie Murphy, who almost single-handedly held the show together in producer and creator Lorne Michaels' hiatus; an omission that tends to paint the five-year gap between the departure of the show's original crew and the return of its ringleader as a total loss, which could not be further from the case.
That is not to say that Live From New York lives and dies by that flaw, rather, that a documentary that attempts to explore such a rich history in television shouldn't scuff what the director considers to be off-years. LFNY did, however, provide us with introductions to some the lesser-known maestros, including longtime set designer Akira Yoshimura (who was also utilized in several sketches as Mr. Sulu) and production designer Joe DeTullio, who have immeasurable contributions to the show's versatility. We even got a touch of Mayor Giuliani (who's balding pate I happened to be sitting directly behind) and his infamous "Why Start Now" crack during their touching 9/11 tribute.
Once the curtain drew back and the 83-minute love letter to New York came to a close, Ludacris alarmingly capped of the affair with a career-spanning performance, that touched on every one of his seemingly endless list of hits, but also made for the oddest musical pairing one could possibly conceive. Though most of the audience quickly got in the spirit of the performance, even it was a non-sequitur, Giuliani dipped just as the guitar riff for "Area Codes" made it's way in. Go figure. So while we'll never truly know if Giuliani secretly adores him some Luda, we can comfortably say, even with its shortcomings, Live From New York is a necessary and proper chronicle of a revolutionary platform that continues to break ground and hold a mirror to pop culture (and our ruthless consumption of it) to this very day.