For four decades, Saturday Night Live has pumped near-the-knuckle humour, live music and political commentary into American households while serving as a platform for aspiring, new comedians and musicians. Now the US comedy sensation is the subject of a feature documentary: Bao Nguyen’s Live From New York! This fun but fuzzy exposé siphons some interesting viewpoints from the gamut of celebrities, executives and studio-hands but often loiters unfocused, lost in the balance between light, honorary recap and dogged examination.

Stock footage, talking-head interviews and fresh retrospectives are spliced to form an occasionally compelling hotchpotch of sentimental reminiscing and exploratory investigative journalism but it doesn’t quite unify into as brave a work as it could have been. LFNY spends too much time charting the SNL journey, inflating production hurdles and re-playing old sketches yet excels when addressing issues relating to the show’s content, dissecting (and delivering) prudent, political stances and exploring the opinions of those involved in the production.

Issues of integrated racism and sexism are explored and considered by some to be simply reflecting the cultural milieu of the time. Meanwhile others express genuine concern. LFNY partially examines the show’s metamorphosis from a slice of live, prime-time entertainment into a pop-culture behemoth with the muscle to manipulate politics and public opinion. Being a live show with an anarchic temperament, SNL could have been misconstrued as dangerous by paranoid political figures which may have led to their active involvement in the production and making guest appearances, but this is not directly addressed in Nguyen’s film.

LFNY spends too much time scurrying through stock footage for funny clips and takes a while to say something interesting or establish a purpose. While it is often pleasant to see ex-cast members reminisce over old scenes and relay stories surrounding the production, some of the comedy may not resound with anyone other than US viewers due to a lesser familiarity with American culture and the political references of the time.

Greater effort should have been spent examining the film’s emerging ideas relating to racism, sexism, political involvement and changing public perspectives then using them as a basis for the film itself. Archive demos, behind-the-scenes footage and freshly shot sequences of New York sky-lines coalesce nicely but serve as nothing more than fancy cushioning between banal, benchmark segments, while more interesting themes require greater elaboration. LFNY could have been a stronger, sturdier work but its finer points are secondary to the need to tell the SNL tale. While this is sufficiently entertaining enough, it lacks the wallop to make LFNY as powerful as SNL itself.

Live From New York!
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Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.
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