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Casting By on HBO Offers a Glimpse of Film History

08/05/2013 02:28 pm ET | Updated Oct 05, 2013

Famous for casting many of the Woody Allen films, including the most recent Blue Jasmine, Juliet Taylor made her way around the rooftop at the Gramercy Park Hotel, among actors Dana Delany, John Ventimiglia, Sakina Jaffrey, after a screening of a film she did not cast. Finally recognized for their important contribution to films, casting directors take center stage in the documentary Casting By, directed by Tom Donahue whose prior credits include the satiric, Guest of Cindy Sherman. Shining a light on one aspect of the film art so under the radar, casting directors do not have an Oscar category, the film, which also features footage from that great era of filmmaking, the '70's, asks, shouldn't they? After all, who do you remember from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Redford and Newman, of course. Juliet Taylor said she had a great time getting Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, as she always does casting Woody Allen's films, and, like Penelope Cruz and Dianne Wiest, Best Supporting Actresses, Cate Blanchett may achieve Academy recognition.

Not everyone agrees that these unsung workers deserve equal awards with say, editors or costume designers, all being responsible for a film's distinct look. Film director Taylor Hackford, president of the Directors Guild of America comes down quite hard, insisting, "These are not directors of any kind." Juliet Taylor, and Amanda Mackey among others who provide the "talent" were all trained by the pioneering Marion Dougherty who died in 2011 without so much as the Lifetime Achievement Award many including Clint Eastwood were pushing for her. Having been a major force in many classic films we know and love she did not even get a credit when she finally asked for one on Midnight Cowboy (1969); as in the character-driven Woody Allen films, Jon Voigt, Dustin Hoffman, and Sylvia Miles were nominated, in her case, for a mere 7 minutes of screen time. Who put her there? That was Dougherty's keen sense of who was good in New York theater.

While the documentary attempts to define this craft, excellence in the field is best explained by "instinct." But as Jon Voigt pointed out, his first attempts at acting were amateurish, and it was not till Midnight Cowboy that he displayed his chops, and none of that would have happened had not Marion Dougherty pushed hard to get him the job.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.