Hollywood was in a crisis during the seventies. Directors like Francis Ford Coppola and William Freidkin were having enormous box office successes with provocative, artistic films that led an industry known for widescreen spectacle in to an existential crisis. When Steven Spielberg and George Lucas invented the concept of the summer blockbuster in the second half of the decade, with Jaws and Star Wars respectively, they gave mass market entertainment a new sheen and put old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking back on the map. But that wasn’t enough for super producer Allan Carr, the posthumous subject of the latest documentary The Fabulous Allan Carr from director Jeffery Schwarz (I Am Divine).
Carr was an outspoken, flamboyant personality who remained constantly in vocal opposition to the kinds of films Hollywood was making during this period- something he fought back against by producing Grease, the highest grossing musical of all time and a zeitgeist capturing sensation to this very day. He was confused as to why people would go see films like Apocalypse Now or Gandhi when he saw cinema as nothing more than a simple means of escapism, dedicating an entire career to producing films that he believed captured the glamour of the Hollywood musicals he grew up loving and updating them for a contemporary audience. He was a man out of time, producing as many high profile flops as he did hits on stage and screen. And yet because of him, film culture would prove to never be the same again.
As a piece of documentary filmmaking, Jeffery Schwarz doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. This is a classic, good natured talking heads-style documentary with a healthy smattering of archive footage from a different era of Hollywood filmmaking. But that is exactly what Allan Carr himself would have wanted; he skims over the negative aspects that defined his life at different periods (his struggles with weight loss, losing friends during the AIDS epidemic and even his eventual cancer diagnosis) in order to focus on what Carr would have really wanted to be remembered for- albeit with more focus on his high profile flops than you would have imagined he would have liked. Luckily, these are all presented in repeated cycles of falls for grace and successful comebacks. A classic Hollywood narrative he would have been proud of.
The fact this approach is the tribute the man himself would have wanted does earn goodwill, but doesn’t fully negate the criticism that the film does have a tendency to skim over the more upsetting (and more dramatically interesting) moments of Carr’s life. As a lover of Hollywood glamour, he obviously wouldn’t like them to appear- but without them, it does feel like we are only getting half the story about this incredibly interesting character, who was a prominent figure in late 20th Century Hollywood. As much as I loved hearing firsthand about the drama behind the scenes of his greatest achievements by those who were there, I wanted some of the same loving tribute to him during his personal troubles, not just the professional ones.
After watching this loving documentary, I can see why he is such an important figure. In addition to his crowning achievements in the musical genre, he also helped invent the concept of “awards season”, by making The Deer Hunter the first film to receive a “for your consideration” release in the dying days of December, just before Oscar ballots were sent out. This is just one of the many anecdotes that help show not just why he was one of the best in the business, but why his influence on pop culture shouldn’t be forgotten.
The Fabulous Allan Carr is a loving showbiz documentary, shedding some light on one of the most prominent Hollywood figures of a bygone era- even if it doesn’t dig as deep as you would like it to. However, it is infectiously enjoyable, and will certainly leave you more eager than ever to rewatch Grease by the time the end credits start to roll.
Read our interview with Jeffrey Schwarz
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Jeffrey Schwarz