Bright Lights Film Journal

Life Is Shit – Let’s Put on a Show! Stephen Sondheim’s <em>Company</em> on DVD

“I guess it all works if you revere Stephen Sondheim.”

Have you been kicking yourself ever since May 3, 1970, when you weren’t there for the marathon recording session that put the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Company on wax? Probably not, but if so, life just got a whole lot better, because while you were sprawled in your Lazy-boy watching the tube, documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker was on the case, and the result of his labors is now on DVD.

I hate to be rude (honest I do), but frankly I don’t get it. This is not a film of an actual production of Company, but of a recording session, and it’s not like we’re seeing the Beatles laying down tracks for Sergeant Pepper or Mozart backstage at the opening of Don Giovanni. We see sound engineers doing voice checks and hear people saying things like “I can’t hear the bass.” We see singers worrying about when to come in. We see Steve in a turtleneck sucking on a ciggiebutt and wondering if he should bring “Ladies Who Lunch” down half a tone. We listen to tough old broad Elaine Stritch belt out a song about tough old broads (“Ladies Who Lunch”).

I guess it all works if you revere Stephen Sondheim. I’d never willingly listened to anything by Sondheim, and this DVD didn’t convince me that I’d missed anything. In recent interviews, Sondheim has said flatly that “Broadway is dead.” Well, he ought to know, because he did the embalming. If I ever feel like making love to a corpse, it won’t be this one.

If you still want to buy this DVD, it’s a pretty good deal. In addition to Pennebaker’s original documentary, you get interviews with Pennebaker, Stritch, and producer Harold Prince; an additional music track, “Have I Got a Girl for You”; a photo gallery from the original Broadway show; and a bio for Pennebaker.