1970, Movies

Original Cast Album: Company (1970, D.A. Pennebaker)

This brief documentary about the creation of the original cast album for the musical Company is so brief because it was supposed to be a TV pilot. The idea was to have a TV series based around recordings of cast albums. I’m not sure there would have been enough, but it’s kind of a neat idea.

This is a fly-on-the-wall film, and it’s mostly focused on the vocalists and the people in the booth (the record producer, Sondheim and a few others). The first thing that really stands out is how, even in 1970 they are trying to record the whole thing live in studio. The orchestra and vocalists are in the same room! Like why?!?!?! They absolutely had the technology to avoid doing that, though it was harder then than now. (And, spoiler alert with at least one track they end up recording the vocals separately.) It’s fascinating and it certainly made everything harder.

For example, “Getting Married Today” seems impossible to begin with but having to do so live in the studio rather than to a backing track seems doubly impossible. (Credit to Beth Howland.) Though everyone involved was doing this nightly so I guess they were more comfortable this way.

It’s a fascinating insight into a Broadway production. And it was probably the closest anyone had yet gotten to one of these productions when this abandoned pilot was released as a film instead. Unlike so many contemporary documentaries, nobody here seems particularly aware they are being filmed, which is fun.

But, 50 odd years later, it’s just another fly-on-the-wall documentary, albeit a fairly entertaining one. For me its brevity is both a positive (you really are never remotely bored) and a negative (the whole thing feels very slight). I’d rate it higher if there was more to it, I think.

7/10

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