Sunday, November 4, 2012

Performance Makes a Film--Casting By

When I go to the movies, it's usually the performances that drive the film for me. Sure, a film needs a good story, cinematography, and a host of other cinematically related musts, but without the right combination of performer to role, the film can't shine. The unsung hero of this matchmaking affair is the casting director, and it is Tom Donahue's documentary, Casting By, that makes this argument.

Donahue's central premise in the film is that the casting director has not gotten the attention she deserves; movies would not achieve success without these agents of vision providing the right fit for particular roles. The film centers around the story of Marion Dougherty, a casting director whose 50+ year career included casting such notables as Dustin Hoffman, James Dean, Al Pacino, Glenn Close, Robert Redford, Jon Voigt, and Bette Midler in the early stages of their career. 

Throughout the film, various actors, casting directors, and film industry notables proclaim the brilliance of Dougherty. Jon Voigt owes his casting in Midnight Cowboy to Dougherty's belief in his potential to be a star. Bette Midler credits Dougherty's casting of her in the film Hawaii (the role of a missionary) as the ticket that gave her enough money to move to NYC and begin her rise to stardom. Dougherty relied on her intuition, and it was that intuition that made her suggest Dustin Hoffman, an unknown NYC dramatic actor be cast for the role of Benjamin in The Graduate. 

Dougherty not only had a huge influence on the careers of numerous stars and ultimately the success of numerous films due to the right combination of actor and role, but she also helped influence innumerable other casting directors, earning her a deserved place of honor in the Academy. Unfortunately, despite a series of petitions and pleas from top directors and Academy Award winning actors and actresses, the Academy denied a request to honor Dougherty with a special Academy Award for all her years and successes as a casting director.

This film serves as that award, even if Dougherty did not live to see it (she died at age 88 before the film was completed). If you are a film lover, Donahue's testament is pure delight, filled with innumerable clips from award winning films that were touched by Dougherty's gut instinct of casting. From now on, when I watch the credits roll by to note the soundtrack and place of film, I will also be watching for the Casting by credit, now knowing what a star role he/she plays.

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