Casting By, a documentary about casting directors, sheds light on the dawn of the casting director as an independent creative player in the world of film and television. It’s interesting stuff if you’re a movie buff, but I suspect it would put a general audience to sleep.
The story takes focuses on Marion Dougherty, a brilliant New York casting director who defined the job. Just as Dougherty was coming into her own as a casting director in New York – based network television, the studio system was coming apart in Los Angeles. When the studios stopped keeping a roster of reliably stereotypical role players on contract and transitioned to hiring afresh for each new film, they needed someone who knew the talent pool. They needed someone who knew how to read a script and see a certain performer or type of performer. They needed a casting director.
Dougherty filled that role, and in so doing she garnered the respect of many of the great filmmakers of her day. While she was at it, she trained the next generation of casting directors and shaped her profession for years to come. Casting By tells her story with verve, and sprinkles it with interviews with such luminaries as Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese. However, the film assumes a familiarity with the motion pictures of the late sixties and early seventies (Dougherty’s heyday) that many viewers may not share. If you haven’t seen Midnight Cowboy, you can’t know how perfectly cast John Voight and Dustin Hoffman were in that film. The same goes for Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, or a number of the other actors in a number of the other films Casting By expects you to have seen.
That said, Casting By taught this film buff a few things about the history of auteur-era American filmmaking, and it did so in an entertaining fashion. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll probably enjoy Casting By. I know I did.