The word "delightful" is tossed around rather easily when it comes to movie reviews, but trust me when I say that Dava Whisenant's Bathtubs Over Broadway is truly one of the most delightful and one of the most entertaining feature docs to come my way in a very long time.
Screening currently at Indy's own Heartland International Film Festival in competition as a doc feature finalist, Bathtubs Over Broadway immerses itself in the world of corporate musicals.
That's right. You heard me correctly. Corporate musicals.
It all started when comedy writer Steve Young was on an assignment from his gig on Letterman's Late Night and was scouring bargain bin vinyl for a segment. Along the way, he stumbled across a few vintage albums, strange little "cast recordings" marked "internal use only" that revealed full-throated Broadway musical shows about some of the most recognizable corporations in America including McDonald's, General Electric, Ford, Dupont, Xerox and others. The discovery became an obsession for Young, whose delight in immersing himself in this world is felt through every moment of Bathtubs Over Broadway and whose determination to track down unseen footage, rare albums, and those involved in the productions also led to his becoming a part of this very special world.
Seriously, folks. It's freaking amazing.
Did you even know this existed? I know I sure didn't.
Whisenant puts it all together to near perfection and turns Bathtubs Over Broadway into one of the year's most entertaining documentaries. Not surprisingly, the film has been an absolute critical and popular darling on the festival circuit picking up prizes at Tribeca Film Festival (Albert Maysles Award, Best New Documentary Director), Nantucket Film Festival (Audience Award, Best Documentary Feature), HotDocs (Top 10 Audience Favorite), Nashville Film Festival (Special Jury Prize) and a host of others.
While the Academy is known for having a preference for more serious doc fare, the simple truth is it's unimaginable that Bathtubs Over Broadway won't be mentioned when Academy Awards season comes around. This film is a complete and utter joy, embracing the remarkableness of its subject matter and creating a work of wonder around it.
If you're wondering what is meant by "corporate musical," in the 50's, 60's and 70's, many of America's larger corporations were known to hold motivational meetings of sorts for their employees. Inevitably, there would come a time in these meetings when "entertainment" would be called for and, yes, often this entertainment would center around a sort of "musical" themed around the company and its products. Corny? Perhaps, but they were taken seriously and these corporate musicals became a serious source of revenue for talented composers, writers, etc. and even many well known names were known to have dabbled in this world including Chita Rivera, Florence Henderson, Martin Short, Jello Biafra, Susan Stroman and quite a few others. Young even manages to discover works created by the likes of Kander and Ebb, known for Chicago, Stephen Sondheim, composer of Into the Woods, and other familiar names.
It's hard to imagine that Whisenant is a first-time director, though the former Late Night editor certainly knows her way around entertainment and is a gifted, natural filmmaker whose work here is intelligent, intuitive and absolutely spot-on. She has a natural host, of course, in Young, whose contagious affection could drag me just about anywhere, but Whisenant infuses the film with an affectionate exuberance and respect for its subject matter that you can't help but have yourself a good time. Despite the inherent kitsch factor, there's never really a moment where we're laughing AT these musicals - we're laughing with them and grateful for their presence. They reflect a time when the American worker was more appreciated and the dedication to these musicals is indicative of a world where such appreciation wasn't just a profit thing - it was a corporate way of life.
Bathtubs Over Broadway is practically the perfect Heartland film, a masterfully rendered and entertaining gem of a film that will make you laugh, make you sing along, make you rush to the internet to find out more about corporate musicals, and make you realize, at least by film's end, that there's a whole lot more beauty and wonder going on beneath the surface of this terrific film.
Bathtubs Over Broadway screens at the following times:
- Oct. 14th @ 12pm at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
- Oct. 18th @ 4:45pm at The Toby at Newfields
- Oct. 19th @ 7:30pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Oct. 20th at 1pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Oct. 21st @ 1pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
For ticket information, visit the Heartland Film Festival website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic