It’s hard to believe Gilda Radner passed away twenty years ago, and it’s sad to see her star has faded over time. A more proper DVD release of Mike Nichols’ film of her 1979 Broadway show “Gilda Live” could have been a good start to getting that resurgence going, but alas, it’s only being put out as part of Warner Brothers’ print-on-demand Warner Archive project. For those unaware, the Warner Archive project releases a few dozen older television shows and movies each month on a simple DVD-R with no extra features that is burned, imprinted with a full-color title artwork on the front of the disc and shipped to the customer within a week. At least “Gilda Live” is being offered in a proper widescreen presentation.
”Gilda Live” is a not just a powerful reminder of just how versatile and talented she was, but how big “Saturday Night Live” used to be. Thirty years ago, without any major credits outside the show, Gilda was able to sell out Broadway’s venerable 1526 seat Winter Garden Theatre, which has also been the home to such shows as the original “West Side Story,” “Funny Girl,” “Beatlemania,” “Cats” and “Mamma Mia!” For two months, Gilda and her troupe, which also included Paul Schaffer, Father Guido Sarducci, future SNL band leader G.E. Smith and future Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore, reprised many of her best-loved characters and skits from the show, albeit with a few choice words that still cannot be said on broadcast television today.
That’s really all there is to “Gilda Live”: a series of television skits expanded and slightly raised on the risque scale for the live stage. And to everyone’s credit, that’s all it needed to be. Nichols and his cameras focus on the show at hand, with very few choice visits backstage or audience reaction shots. No confessionals, rehearsal footage and no behind-the-scenes struggles. Just show this beautiful, talented woman do her thing. Seriously, who could ask for anything more?
Many modern comedic actresses could learn a thing or so from watching Gilda and her show. She kept her craft, her setups and resolutions simple, and those bits remains just as funny today. Outside of the clothes and hairstyles of the audiences, the only thing that truly dates “Gilda Live” are a couple drug references and extended bit about President Carter throughout Father Sarducci’s frequent visits to the stage (to stretch time while Gilda changed backstage).
If you’re a fan of the original “Saturday Night Live,” Gilda Live” is required owning alongside the first five season box sets and “The Blues Brothers.” To have another ninety minutes of Lisa Loopner and Emily Litella, with Judy Miller and Roseanne Roseannadanna and Candy Slice is a joy. But don’t go looking for “Gilda Live” at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. The DVD is only available through the Warner Archive website.Rating: A