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Doc focuses on movies' unsung heroes

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Everyone who cares about movies know how films changed in the 1960s, when the Hollywood studio system fell into obsolescence.

A new filmmaking renaissance began, and if you've read books such as Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, you might attribute the metamorphosis in films to the rise of directors such as Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby and other auteurs.

This delightful documentary by Tom Donahue offers a corrective view of that transition. The actors on the movie screens likewise evolved beyond the rigid old Hollywood caste system of stars and the supporting players. And the force behind that transition was the casting director, the women -- mostly women -- and men who scouted for talent and acted as go-betweens twixt the huge acting communities of New York and Los Angeles and the movie directors.

The film offers interviews with some of the brightest lights in the field -- Lynn Stalmaster, Wallis Nicita, Juliet Taylor -- but the main focus is on Marion Dougherty, whose discerning eye for talent helped the careers of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Diane Lane, John Lithgow and Glenn Close. (The list goes on and on.)

For movie fans, the doc yields one wonderful story after another. Jon Voight recalls his embarrassing first role on the series Naked City, and how Dougherty still believed in him to the extent that, years later, she helped the land of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. Director Richard Donner talks about the shame he felt when Dougherty pushed for Danny Glover to play Mel Gibson's partner in Lethal Weapon and Donner initially resisted because the character wasn't written as black. John Lithgow delights with his recounting of how he got the career-making role of the transsexual Roberta in The World According to Garp. Ed Lauter confesses to his own ingenious plot to get into Dougherty's New York casting office by passing himself off as a mailman.

Dougherty herself, whom a colleague aptly describes as a "salty dame," offers hilarious recollections of showdowns with erstwhile paramount chief Michael Eisner that are worth the price of admission. Given that the Oscars have resisted the call to include casting directors in an awards category, Dougherty toots her own horn with, among other things, the revelation that when it came time to cast the supporting roles of The Sting, she brought in only one actor per part. The movie's director, George Roy Hill, thanked her in his Oscar acceptance speech, saying he couldn't lose because he had in his corner, "Newman, Redford and Dougherty."

Consider for a moment the supporting cast of The Sting: Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Ray Walston... the woman was a genius.

And in this film, she gets the poignantly belated ovation she deserved.

After the Sunday afternoon screening of Casting By at 2 p.m., a panel discussion will follow with former and current casting directors Shelagh Carter, Rebecca Gibson, Darcy Fehr and Jim Heber.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 G12

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