IN THEATERS (SF) – “Live from New York!”

indexLive from New York! (2015; Dir.: Bao Nguyen)

GRADE: C

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens today at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco, the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in 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” (who ever heard of a nonpartisan revolution?), and 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 SNL documentary offers a bounty of rare behind-the-scenes material that should appease the show’s hardcore fans, but it’s just a smokescreen for the film’s timid, company-line approach. The established narrative is followed to the letter – the only acknowledged down period in SNL’s forty-year history came in the early 1980s (when Michaels wasn’t involved, of course), and yet 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), anti-establishment hepcats like Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams and Al Gore attest to the show’s enduring satirical relevance, and 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.