Have you ever heard of the industrial musical? Neither have we...until the Tribeca Film Festival, that is.
The Tribeca 2018 Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director went to Bathtubs Over Broadway, centering on the growth and fulfillment of former comedy writer of The Late Show With David Letterman, Steve Young. Young was a longtime fan of obscure "industrial musical" records which he wrote into the Letterman program for a segment where they lightheartedly poked fun at these vintage records. Directed by Dava Whisenant, who is a former editor at The Late Show, takes the audience through Young's quest and ultimate dream of meeting, interacting with, and ultimately honoring the people who made these musicals happen.
As the documentary progresses, you can feel the shift in Young's life from the ending of the Late Show and the shift from a fun hobby to fully immersing himself in the culture and people he's investigating. And what turned into a 2013 book was also a filmed experience for us to see it all after the last curtain call. There's this entire world of advertising-meets-entertainment that the world at large did not know about and it's an intriguing adventure from the get-go.
From Xerox to bathroom fixtures, the limits are endless when it comes to advertising and the musical numbers you can create for them. It was a small pocket of time before digital when companies showed their sales people rewards through high-production entertainment to get them excited for another quarter or year of selling. The line between advertising and entertainment is often blurred, and that's never been more true today. Though a few shows are still in existence today (like Walmart), it's still not really talked about in popular culture. And most of the records that Young collected are rare and often the last one in existence, it's amazing that he and a few other individuals thought to help preserve such important history in advertising and show business. What often helped pay the bills for entertainers also helped them do what they love when other jobs were scarce. For creatives and professionals in the industry, this film and book are a must-see and must-read for a fascinating era of pride and energy that still has roots in the business today.