Director: Tom Donahue
With: Marion Dougherty, Lynn Stalmaster, Taylor Hackford, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and everybody and their mother
At the beginning of Casting By Martin Scorsese states that 90% of directing is casting, and because of this we learn that the Directors Guild of America is the bane of the casting profession’s life.
Though the documentary is nominally about casting directors, it is really about Marion Dougherty. Dougherty started in New York working in television and ended in Los Angeles as the head of casting for Warner Brothers until 2002. Along the way she created her own casting company and mentored many future greats in the profession.
Her eye for talent and seeing the diamond in the rough was uncanny. Actors such as Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Ed Asner, Anne Bancroft, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, and others appeared on her 3″x5″ index cards with quick one-line comments, and all received their first break because of her. She championed these actors as well as James Dean and Robert Duvall when others wanted to pass on them.
The style of the documentary is talking-head interviews with the occasional scene from famous films. Dougherty was able to be interviewed before she succumbed to the dementia effect of Alzheimer’s, and unfortunately never saw the completed documentary before she passed away. What comes across from the interviews is the appreciation for her talent and skill from the artists, and the affection of those casting directors who worked for her and who she mentored.
The main surprise from the documentary is the antagonism of directors against the casting profession. The film does not shy away from the innate sexism involved with the friction between the two professions: directors are predominately male and casting professionals are predominately female. Taylor Hackford has to be grudgingly commended for going on record with is views–backed by the Directors Guild–about why directors put down casting professionals. Though cinematographers are now called Directors of Photography, the DGA prevents the term casting director from being used. Though the director makes the ultimate choice on the final edit of a film, costumes used, art design, etc., all professions with their own Academy Awards, there is no Oscar for Casting. And even though there was a concerted effort to award Marion Dougherty an honorary Oscar that was backed not only by actors but also directors such as Spielberg and Scorsese, the DGA fought against the Oscar and she never received it.
Ultimately, cineofiles will most appreciate this documentary. The behind-the-scenes stories of actors and other Hollywood professionals are great to listen to. Though there is enough in the film to hold the uninitiateds attention, a casual viewer may be left wondering what the big deal is.
Grade = B