It’s rare that a producer’s name becomes as familiar to the public as the stars of the films he or she makes, but in the late 1970s and ’80s, Allan Carr was a regular talk show guest and caftan wearing celebrity in his own right. A new fast paced, fascinating documentary by Emmy winner Jeffrey Schwarz (‘I Am Divine’, ‘Tab Hunter Confidential’) follows the highs and lows of Carr’s colourful career featuring interviews with those who knew him best.
Starting out in the entertainment industry as a talent booker for Hugh Hefner’s television show, Carr soon became a talent manager representing the likes of Ann-Margaret, Peter Sellers, Tony Curtis and Mama Cass Elliot. Following Carr’s legendary New York subway station premiere party for ‘Tommy’, he gained a reputation for being able to launch a movie with a splash. Taking on the marketing campaign for ‘The Deer Hunter’ he gave the film an innovative awards voting window push with a prestige initial release in Los Angeles and New York. This resulted in nine Oscar nominations, leading to five wins including Best Picture and set a template for subsequent award contenders, with some elements still used by distributors today.
Carr made a fortune in 1976 by acquiring the rights for the international release of low budget Mexican cannibal movie ‘Survive!’, but his first major mainstream triumph as a producer came two years later with the screen adaptation of the stage show ‘Grease’. He’d finally hit the big time and earned the respect of his industry colleagues which had until then eluded him, largely because of his flamboyance in a relatively conservative business.
He struggled to repeat the massive success of ‘Grease’, producing a string of misfires such as the Village People origin story ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ and ‘Grease 2’, which happened to be released on the same day as a little alien movie called ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’. Eventually he found his next hit as a theatre producer in 1983, with a new version of the French play ‘La Cage Aux Folles’, the first major Broadway musical to feature a gay couple as central characters. It went on to win six Tony Awards.
What was meant to be Carr’s big film industry comeback, producing the 61st Academy Awards ceremony in 1989, instead marked the nadir of his show business career. The lengthy opening number of the notorious show culminated in a bizarre duet with Snow White and Rob Lowe. Although the show introduced elements still used today, such as presenters announcing ‘and the Oscar goes to…’ rather than ‘and the winner is…’, the broadcast was seen as an embarrassment to the Academy. Carr received a letter berating him signed by high profile Oscar members, many of whom he had counted among his friends.
Carr’s self-cultivated larger than life persona lends itself well to the exuberant animated sequences by Sean Nadeau interspersed throughout this documentary. As with Jeffrey Schwarz’s previous films, ‘The Fabulous Allan Carr’ takes a balanced look at its subject and doesn’t hold back from addressing the less flattering aspects of Carr’s personality, with a former personal assistant comparing him to Jekyll and Hyde. There are some engaging contributions from Carr’s friends and industry colleagues including Steve Gutenberg with a great casting anecdote about how he landed the lead role in ‘Can’t Stop The Music’, ‘Grease’ director Randal Kleiser on being shut out of much of the promotion for the film and ‘Grease 2’ stars Maxwell Caulfield, Lorna Luft and Connie Stevens.
Brett Ratner also makes an appearance as the current owner of Carr’s former Los Angeles home, complete with restored basement disco, the location of many of Carr’s legendary parties as seen in footage discovered in the house by Ratner. Overall this is a compelling exploration of one of film history’s forgotten talents whose impact on the industry lives on.