Thursday Night Live with Gilda Radner

  • by Roberto Friedman
  • Thursday July 26, 2018
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The audience for the opening night of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 38 at the Castro Theatre last Thursday night knew that they were in the presence of genius. Comedic genius, that is, in the person of the late "Saturday Night Live" star Gilda Radner, as seen in director Lisa D'Apolito's documentary on her life and times, "Love, Gilda." OK, Gilda wasn't live, but her spirit was definitely present.

Working with the Radner estate, D'Apolito had access to diaries, audio and videotapes documenting Gilda's childhood, her comedy career, her relationships, and tragically, the ovarian cancer that brought her life to an untimely end. The result is a touching biography in film. Look in the B.A.R. arts pages for an interview with the director when "Love, Gilda" opens in theaters this coming Sept. 21. In the meantime, here are a few of our off-the-cuff observations (French cuffs, lapis links):

Radner always reminded Out There of comedian Lucille Ball. She was similarly gifted with sheer genius for comic physicality, and full of gleeful energy. In the film, we're treated to clips of Radner playing some of her indelible characters: Judy Miller ("The Judy Show!"), Baba Wawa, Lisa Loopner, Candy Slice, and of course Roseanne Roseannadanna. We learn that Radner based her immortal creation Emily Litella ("Never mind!") on a beloved nanny.

One odd thing about the film is that, except for a short glimpse of Chevy Chase (by far the least talented of the cast), the film doesn't interview any of the classic SNL stars who worked with Radner. Yet it includes plenty of footage of younger SNL players who never knew her, reading excerpts from her diaries and other writings.

That said, classic SNL player Laraine Newman was in the house for opening night, and in a Q&A after the screening, she and D'Apolito discussed the making of the movie. Long story short, when she knew she was terminally ill, Radner wrote at length about her life and work, and it is these musings and insights, never before made public, that power the documentary. Watching talented young comedians Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and others reading these diary entries is quite moving. Though they are decades younger than Radner, you can see that her influence and genius still inspire them.

The film also shows how tender and loving Gilda's relationship with her last husband Gene Wilder, another comic genius for the ages, clearly was. Though he died before "Love, Gilda" was completed, D'Apolito was able to interview Wilder and glean insights.

OT watched the early years of SNL, and now in the Trump era we watch the best clips of the current incarnation online. "Love, Gilda" reminded us of some of the classic comedy we witnessed. But it also made us wonder, why weren't there any out LGBT comedians in the landmark show? Even in recent years, this is a clear lack. Sure, Hader's "Stefan" was a great testament to the gay gene, but was very much invented from the outside in. Until there's a gay producer where the very straight Lorne Michaels now sits, we'll remain unsatisfied.

Culture pass

A recent item in The New York Times' Arts pages made us stop and think. A new initiative called Culture Pass has made it possible for all holders of a New York City library card to gain free admission to the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum and 30 other New York cultural institutions. The free pass is being funded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and some philanthropic foundations.

We wonder, why isn't this possible in the Bay Area? There are so many wonderful cultural institutions here - we're thinking SFMOMA, the Fine Arts Museums/SF, the Berkeley Art Museum, others - where the price of admission may be daunting for many. Let's make it happen: the San Francisco Public Library card should become a Golden Ticket to the Arts in the Bay Area!