Casting By is a Delightful Documentary on Marion Dougherty and the American New Wave


In this delightful documentary, Marion Dougherty insists that finding the right actor for television or the movies simply requires gut instinct.

But, while Dougherty clearly had an almost eerie sense of how a particular actor might inhabit a part, this film also shows that she may have single-handedly created a filmmaking craft and then made it indispensable.

Dougherty understood how theater acting differed from old Hollywood’s typecasting ways, that stage actors aimed to embody characters and the idiosyncrasies of human behavior.

Beginning in 1947, she mined the New York stage for television shows. Later, with Lynn Stalmaster (also profiled, though at the edge of the spotlight), Dougherty brought this casting approach to meet the fresh needs of a film industry emerging from the collapse of the old studio system. It’s amazing how many actors of the “American New Wave” got their start thanks to those two, and we get to see these performers, then and now.

The adroit presentation of this history includes clips, interviews, even glimpses of the pencil-scribbled index cards Dougherty kept on actors. Director Tom Donahue isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty: He includes Directors Guild of America president Taylor Hackford’s parsimonious arguments against a separate casting Oscar, only to let great directors make hash of them.

Dougherty died in 2011 without even the special award her many star-powered admirers fiercely advocated for her. If the members of the Academy see this movie, they may just change their minds.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 30, 2013

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