Will give you a newfound appreciation for the pivotal work of casting directors — and probably a newfound dislike of director Taylor Hackford, too.
Watch this documentary and find yourself amazed at how much of Hollywood history was determined by one woman: legendary casting director Marion Dougherty. At a time when studios were casting actors based on “type,” Dougherty revolutionized the process with her preternatural ability to see the potential in budding actors like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and Glenn Close. Her work in introducing NYC’s theater actors to the silver screen launched countless careers and indelibly shaped iconic films like Midnight Cowboy and Lethal Weapon.
And yet, Dougherty’s work — and that of those who followed in her steps — is criminally underappreciated, as this doc both lays bare and seeks to redress. A largely female profession, casting was long devalued by a casually misogynistic industry, the persistent legacy of which is subtly highlighted in some interviews here. Among the talking heads sharing appreciation and anecdotes are many of the actors and casting directors whose careers Dougherty launched, as well as filmmakers (including Martin Scorsese) testifying to the pivotal role casting has played in their work. Playing the villain is Ray director Taylor Hackford, who believes casting directors add little to the filmmaking process — an argument that the doc wryly disproves with the sheer weight of refuting evidence it offers up.
Casting By isn’t just a historical documentary: the lack of appreciation for casting directors’ work is a modern issue, too, as the film’s last few minutes make clear. Lamenting the decline of Dougherty’s shrewd casting style, an interviewee makes a thought-provoking point when they describe the mainstream shift from “creative to corporate casting” (prioritizing good looks over talent and character). More indisputably, though, is the basic fact that casting still remains unrecognized at the most fundamental levels. The doc tracks the crucial contributions Dougherty made to multiple Oscar-winning movies, but ends on the lamentably persistent refusal of the Academy Awards to honor the profession with an Oscar of its own — making it the only main title credit without one.