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CASTING BY is a surprisingly entertaining documentary. Its title is somewhat misleading as it's doesn't really explain the occupation of casting directors, rather it is a valentine to Marion Dougherty, the woman who coined the term as she carved out a unique role when she began working in the entertainment business. Ironically, she wanted to be an actress herself, but didn't pursue a career, believing it would be too difficult. Fortunately, an entry level position at NBC producing live plays sponsored by Kraft proved a better fit for her theatrical instincts. As she was living in New York City, she had ample opportunity and desire to go to the theater where she discovered the talent whom she cast. The film has a treasure trove of footage of the first roles given to future stars, the most entertaining one is a 22 year-old Warren Beatty imitating fellow Lee Stasberg graduate Marlon Brando. Fortunately, Ms Dougherty, who was not an acting teacher, remanded him that "The Method" did not mean "The Mumble."
The cavalcade of stars whose careers she launched is astonishing, but equally important is the serendipitous era in which she achieved prominence. The cinema of the 1970s was groundbreaking in that talent was allowed to trump looks, and the collapse of the studio movie-making machine allowed risqué movies like "Midnight Cowboy," "Panic in Needle Park," and "Taxi Driver" to be made.
Marion Dougherty's LA counterpart, Lynn Stalmaster, is profiled as another example of a casting director. But based in LA, the criteria and talent pool meant that his accomplishments are complementary to hers, but not comparable.
The movie is enjoyable, fast-paced and certain to be enjoyed by cinephiles, but should not be viewed as a representation of the profession of casting directors.
This writer has first-hand knowledge of the acting industry in Los Angeles. The majority of casting directors do not have anywhere near the authority of those interviewed in the movie. While it is a more difficult proposition for an LA-based casting director to go to the theater to discover talent, few make the effort nor have any appreciation for the actor's craft. Crassly, some actually teach acting classes and charge fees for aspiring actors to meet them.
Just as in the modeling world, there are the Victoria's Secret models at the top and an exploitative ugly underbelly that are not depicted together, so it is in the casting business. There's a documentary to be made there, but this movie is not it. It is about the cream that has justifiably risen to the top and gifted us with some of the greatest actors we may ever see.
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