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There are a lot of female comedians and comic actors working today on stage, in movies and on television, and one would imagine if they had to put together a Mount Rushmore of influences on their work, Gilda Radner would easily make the list. The Second City alum and member of Saturday Night Live's Not Ready for Prime Time players initial cast held her own and some of her male cohorts at times with characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna before moving on from the weekly grind of late night sketch comedy, ultimately to be taken from the world much too soon at the age of 42 due to ovarian cancer. Lisa D'Apolito combined with Radner's estate teamed up to make Love, Gilda, using a wealth of audio tapes, journals, pictures and home movies of Radner throughout her life.
The film also includes interviews with many of those who Radner worked with, including Martin Short (Inherent Vice), SNL producer Lorne Michaels, former David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer and members of Radner's family. Fans of Radner that went on to do SNL including Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Bill Hader (Barry) share their thoughts on her as well, along with non SNL alums and comic actresses like Melissa McCarthy (The Heat). They share their thoughts on Radner's work and life, what kind of person she was and seemed to be, and how much they miss her.
There is little doubt that Radner was a dear person and that her life, even in death touched many people. Before doing the film, D'Apolito was shooting a promotional piece for the charity in Radner's name, and her exposure to those suffering from cancer combined with recollections from others inspired her to do the documentary. Given the context of Radner's life in the film, it does provide even a seasoned fan of her work a newfound and emotional appreciation for her appearance on Garry Shandling's show before the recurrence of her cancer that led to her death.
In getting the estate's cooperation to provide so much material about Radner, from Radner in the film, D'Apolito's choice of Radner telling her story is both a positive and negative. On one hand, there are the feelings you have as you see her life unfold and just how much love played a part in her work and her life. On the other, it still leaves a feeling of incompletion to the film that there isn't more appreciation from those around Radner through her life. Strangely, SNL friends (and later lovers) Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and onetime bandleader/husband GE Smith were not interviewed, though Short as Radner's onetime boyfriend was. Whether they were approached is unknown, but they presumably would have loved the chance to share their thoughts about the woman they worked with and loved.
In a way I get the omissions, they serve as a bit of selfishness for the viewer (or this viewer at least), and it deters from telling the story of Gilda's life in Gilda's words. And in a film where love is a central talked about theme, I don't think you could love or show love for Gilda Radner enough. At some point you have to stop, and if stopping the telling of Gilda Radner's life results in some disappointment, it's a minor blemish on an otherwise straightforward and passionate telling of a remarkable woman's existence.The Disc:
Love, Gilda is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with the film looking like a gem. It juggles SNL, Radio City and concert footage adeptly, as well as numerous stills and home movies that span the decades of Radner's life. Television footage looks natural and colors are consistent as can be, and the interviews of contemporary subjects looking vivid in the clothing and hair colors. Magnolia does very well by the focus of the feature and invigorates the subject of Radner's life and legacy.The Sound:
The film gets a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack but doesn't have a lot to do. The sounds of the day sound good and the home movies have a crisp, even immersive feeling to them even if they are scant. Interviews are consistent in the front of the theater and do not possess any dropouts or hissing. Everything generally occurs in the front of the viewer, so little in the way of channel panning or directional effects to come, given the source material. Still a fun listen regardless.Extras:
Perhaps some more could have been done in this area; Radner's movies on an expanded level are included (10:19), along with a stills gallery and trailer (2:30), though the big feature is additional interview footage with most of those who appear in the film (37:33), which is a nice complement to it.Final Thoughts:
In Love Gilda, we get to see a big reason why a lot of women who are in comedy pursue it, and Radner's life, (most of the) warts and all is shown with loads of moments to make you laugh, cry, think and remember fondly. Technically it's fine and the bonuses could have used some more work but it's a superb look back at Radner's time on earth with love. Lots and lots of love.