Monday, 14 October 2013

'Marvin Hamlisch: The Way He Was' by Dori Berinstein

The BFI London Film Festival is on at the moment and on Saturday we went to see a documentary about Marvin Hamlisch by Dori Berinstein. It's still a work in progress and Dori said she hadn't yet seen it all the way through - the editing is complete but still needs credits added (clearly illustrated by the [add credits here] captions in the credits at the end).

I won't claim to know much about Marvin Hamlisch - I know his name and that he was a film and stage composer but that's about it. I'd seen the revival of 'A Chorus Line' at The Palladium twice earlier this year and loved it and that was one of his shows, in reality his biggest show. So it was interesting to see all the film clips of him through the years, from a boy growing up in New York hailed as a child prodigy, winning three Oscars at the age of 29 and then never quite repeating that level of success despite other Broadway and film successes.

Did you know he wrote 'The Way We Were' for Barbra Streisand and 'Nobody Does It Better', the Bond theme by Carly Simon? That he used to be in a relationship with Carole Bayer Sager and his musical 'They're Playing Our Song' was about that relationship? That he wrote a musical staged by the National Theatre called 'Jean' about Jean Seberg (someone from the original cast was in the audience)?

He seems to have been incredibly prolific, throwing out songs and film scores here, there and everywhere. Winning three Oscars also meant he was on telly everywhere, talking and playing piano and some of the clips of him are from the Michael Parkinson show in the '70s and, when I saw them, it suddenly clicked where I'd seen him before - that show. He seemed to have an incredibly active life doing an incredibly wide range of things mostly involving music. Such as his work in later years to keep the American songbook alive by touring and playing with orchestras, staging shows for the White House and going into old peoples' homes to play for them. 

There were interviews with a wide range of people, people he'd collaborated with, people who'd starred in his musicals as well as friends and family. It was quite well rounded. It was also fascinating to learn that some of the songs in 'A Chorus Line' were written about and for the original cast members.

In the Q&A afterwards Dori explained that she tried to let Marvin tell his own story through the enormous amount of film footage of him over the years. That came across very strongly and was very effective. The questions were interesting and ended up with someone saying that they'd seen things about Marvin before that made him not like him (at which I cringed, a negative last question is deadly) but that Dori's film had made him change his mind (phew!).

The film will be released on DVD at some point so watch out for it if you're a Hamlisch fan.

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