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Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love: Hamptons Review

Marvin Hamlisch 1977 - H 2013
Roy Jones/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Bottom Line

TV-ready doc offers fine summary of a hit-filled career.

Venue

Hamptons International Film Festival

Director-Producer-Screenwriter

Dori Berinstein

Dori Berinstein gushes over one of the most successful careers in modern songwriting.

A child piano prodigy who could've been "the next Horowitz" takes a more populist (and profitable) course in Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love, Dori Berinstein's adoring tribute to the Chorus Line composer who died last August at the age of 68. The doc follows Berinstein's Carol Channing: Larger than Life and will appeal to the same audience, though Hamlisch's high profile makes this film feel less like a rediscovery than a happy memorial. PBS airings will suit it well.

The son of Jews who had fled Vienna for Manhattan before WWII, Hamlisch had musical gifts that were hard to ignore. He entered Julliard at the age of 6, then attended New York's Professional Children's School, where Christopher Walken (briefly interviewed here) was a classmate.

Talent and drive were assisted by some unbelievable breaks: When a buddy asked Marvin to compose songs for his girlfriend, an aspiring singer named Liza Minnelli, he wound up getting to perform for hours in Judy Garland's living room. Later, he was about to turn down a gig playing at a private party when he learned the guest of honor was producer Sam Spiegel; he changed his mind, and was soon composing music for the movies.

Berinstein chronicles the composer's early and stunning success (three Oscars in one night before the age of 30, for instance), then finds him struggling to top himself after his Chorus Line triumph. A bevy of old TV-interview clips remind us how great he was in front of a crowd -- surprising, considering that as a child he was too nervous onstage to consider a career as a serious concert pianist. We hear from those who gave voice to his hits (Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon) alongside some less predictable subjects: Yankees Manager Joe Torre, a big fan who became a friend; and Steven Soderbergh, whose 2009 The Informant! is almost unthinkable without its from-left-field Hamlisch score.

The affectionate film shifts gears an hour in, focusing on the charming story of his courtship of wife Terre Blair, his non-musical enthusiasms, and his sideline promoting the work of his musical-theater forebears while conducting Pops orchestras around the country. Its acknowledgement of occasional professional failures is most poignant in a section on his 2001 Broadway adaptation of Sweet Smell of Success, a play some here clearly think is ripe for rediscovery.

Production Company: Dramatic Forces, American Masters

Director-Producer-Screenwriter: Dori Berinstein

Executive producers: Andrew Herwitz, Mitchell Cannold, Susan Lacy

Directors of photography: Alan Deutsch, Jimmy O'Donnell

Editor: Penelope Falk

No rating, 85 minutes