Susan Lacy’s documentary “Inventing David Geffen,” which premieres November 20 on PBS as part of the “American Masters” series, is generally sitting well with the critics. The portrait of the intimidating “agent-manager-record-mogul-movie-mogul” is a comprehensive look at Geffen’s many achievements, if a fairly rose-colored one. As the NY Times writes, “Why pick a fight with Hollywood’s biggest Rolodex?” Roundup below.
TOH! recently went to the film’s premiere. Anne Thompson writes, “Why the amazing turnout for Hollywood’s most powerful billionaire? In introducing the doc Hanks said, ‘We are all here because we’d all like to be as smart, hardworking, and seeing-into-the future as David Geffen is.’ But Larry Gordon put it better: ‘Nobody would dare not show up.'”
In a November 18 interview in the L.A Times, director Lacy talks about Geffen as an interview subject (“I was surprised that someone who had been in analysis five days a week didn’t like to talk about himself”) and his reputation as an “atomic weapon”: “He always wins. I think he can be pretty ruthless. These are all words right from the film: ‘If he’s your friend, he’ll do anything for you. If he’s your enemy, you might as well kill yourself.’ I think David did what he had to do to get what he wanted. I don’t think that’s unusual in business, by the way.”
Entertaining, congratulatory bio makes a mogul’s many successes look inevitable. A lively account of one of the most influential careers in modern showbiz, Susan Lacy’s Inventing David Geffen works within a familiar format to sing the praises of a man who never did.
It wouldn’t be fair to call the “American Masters” documentary “Inventing David Geffen” a whitewash. Mr. Geffen’s infamous 1983 lawsuit against Neil Young is detailed, for instance, and called “unconscionable” by Mr. Young’s manager (who also happens to be an old friend and former business partner of Mr. Geffen’s)… But for the most part, the 50 interview subjects that the film’s director, Susan Lacy, tracked down over a four-year period are a friendly bunch. Mr. Auletta goes on to say, “He’s living by a code, and his code of conduct is honorable.” Tom Hanks chimes in with, “He’s as accomplished and he’s as visionary as any of the great media moguls of all time.” Cher testifies, “He was the most loving — I don’t care what you think about him — boyfriend in the world.” So the primary lesson of “Inventing David Geffen” may be that it still pays to be on the good side of the film’s subject… Why pick a fight with Hollywood’s biggest Rolodex?
There are many unique little stories throughout—Geffen telling the Army he had “homosexual tendencies” to get out of serving, a great story of an altercation with Clint Eastwood, the sad tale of John Lennon’s assassination and Geffen’s friendship with Yoko Ono, his lawsuit against Neil Young for not being commercial enough—but the film always feels a little too close to its subject to really penetrate, and its style is talking head, talking head, talking head. Still, it’s wildly entertaining, and full of sharp-as-a-tack quotes, none more so than Jackson Browne’s word to Geffen after selling Geffen Records: “Who would’ve thought it would take a billion dollars to make you happy?” If that doesn’t demonstrate why there is no one quite like David Geffen, I’m not sure what does.
Susan Lacy’s “Inventing David Geffen,” which premieres Tuesday as part of the PBS series “American Masters,” takes a long look at the agent-manager-record-mogul-movie-mogul (and Broadway producer and billionaire philanthropist). In Los Angeles, he is also a sort of proper noun: “The Geffen,” attached here to a playhouse, there to an art museum.