Original Cast Album: Company
Legendary documentarian D.A. Pennebaker may be the 20th century's foremost cinematic chronicler of artists and their struggles, having documented brief periods in the careers of everyone from Bob Dylan to Carol Burnett to David Bowie to Depeche Mode. Artists have historically been eager to work with him, and it's easy to see why: Less a muckraker than an unrepentant humanist, Pennebaker loves creative folk, and his films resonate with curiosity and fondness for the people he's documenting. Originally conceived as a pilot for a TV show that would document a different cast recording every week, the 1970 film Original Cast Album: Company documents the marathon recording session for the cast album of Company, a musical that would become one of lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim's greatest triumphs. Original Cast Album: Company would be worth viewing solely for Sondheim's witty lyrics and infectious music, but the human drama makes the session especially riveting. Pennebaker captures the performers' nervous energy, superhuman endurance, and sheer will with warmth and humanity, focusing on their expressive faces as they struggle to preserve Sondheim's work for posterity. Pennebaker's film runs a mere 58 minutes, but its brevity belies its depth and resonance. A scene in which Elaine Stritch wrestles with "Ladies Who Lunch," seemingly drawing from the pit of her soul only to be chastised for a flaccid take, says more about the difficulties of creation in five minutes than skillful fluff like State And Main does in its entirety. On paper, the idea of filming a single epic recording session might seem like an exercise in perverse, claustrophobic minimalism. On film, it's an exhilarating, revealing, and surprisingly gripping testament to the joys and hardships of creating lasting art.