Blu-ray Review - Original Cast Album: “Company” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 22nd, 2024  

Original Cast Album: “Company”

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Aug 24, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

At a lean 53-minute runtime, legendary documentarian D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” is set entirely within a Manhattan recording studio. The film captures the original Broadway cast and crew of the famous Steven Sondheim musical Company, recording the album. The documentary bounces back and forth between the cast singing some of the show’s most famous hits, including the classics “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” or “Being Alive,” and the crew (including Sondheim himself) giving them notes. Knowledge of the musical’s content is not necessary, as the documentary is entirely focused on the songs and giving the viewer a peek behind the scenes.

The documentary was originally meant to be the first film of a series that captures Broadway casts while they belt out hits in the recording studio. As the rolling opening title card explains though, due to production and crew issues, Company ended up being the sole film made. It’s a beautiful documentary of the tradition of making Original Cast Albums, most of which last through time and are still a significant part of the Broadway experience. It’s almost sorrowful to think that in an alternate reality, there could have been more films just like this one.

Simplicity is key in Company. Similar to Pennebaker’s other famed music documentaries, such as Bob Dylan – Don’t Look Back or Monterey Pop, no complex or showy filmmaking techniques are utilized. The documentary relies on many static long-takes as cast members repeatedly work their way through Sondheim’s rapid-fire lyricism. The editing does move quickly, but it mostly bounces back and forth between the singers and the show’s band. While it may sound drab, all of these things actually make the film even more effective. Pennebaker’s main vision is to make the viewer feel like they are there, standing in the recording studio next to Sondheim, watching the magic unfold. It’s an immersive experience, but one that feels natural to watch, like the cast and crew have been waiting for the viewer to show up and join them. Only a few documentarians have been able to capture this feeling, and it’s mesmerizing to watch unfold throughout Company.

Pennebaker is known to capture change as it unfolds in real time. In Company, the essence of change is much less direct but still very apparent. Pennebaker orchestrates a shift in both filmmaker and audience accessibility. He uses the camera to give viewers a first-hand view into the ups and downs of being a part of a Broadway cast (and a recording artist in general). Company doesn’t paint a rosy picture. There are many repeated takes of songs scattered throughout the documentary. The film’s final 15 minutes even capture cast member Elaine Stritch’s repeated performances of one of the play’s most iconic songs, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” as she tries to get the perfect take while fighting anger and fatigue. It’s difficult to imagine just how revolutionary the documentary must have been upon its initial release in 1970, given that it still feels so revolutionary now.

The Criterion Collection’s new 4K digital transfer looks absolutely fantastic, with vivid colors that make the film pop out even more. The physical release of the film is also filled with many supplemental features. Among the best are audio commentary from Steven Sondheim, audio commentary from 2001 with Pennebaker and others, and a conversation between Sondheim, Jonathan Tunick (the documentary’s orchestrator), and Frank Rich. Also included is an episode of Documentary Now! starring John Mulaney and Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry that parodies the film.

Even with all these supplemental features, Company is geared toward a specific audience. It is important to note that the film is quite short but still costs the same price as other Criterion Collection releases. Even so, given Company’s classic status in Broadway history as well as the modern renaissance of the show–propelled by the usage of several songs in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage StoryCompany could not have been released at a better time. For Broadway aficionados, documentary lovers and film collectors in general, Company is more than recommendable.



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