Susan Lacy‘s Inventing David Geffen, an American Masters documentary, will air on PBS on 11.20.12. I watched it twice last summer in preparation for a PBS press event with Geffen at the Beverly Hilton. After covering this I posted a combination review and commentary on 7.22. With the show airing in two weeks I might as well re-run the piece.
Inventing David Geffen “is a somewhat candid backrub piece that pretty much allows the 69 year-old supermogul to tell his life story the way he wanted it told. Which feels okay as you’re watching it, I guess. It doesn’t excite but doesn’t offend either. And I watched it twice in a row, which says something.
“Lacy includes an occasional blunt comment (one-time litigant Neil Young shares a few choice phrases) about Geffen’s combative nature and scrappy business dealings so as to give a feeling that the doc doesn’t ‘flatter,’ but it mostly does flatter in a sense because it underlines how an awful lot of people are scared of Geffen, and therefore respectful. They all kiss the ring.
“Lacy’s doc is an engrossing sit because Geffen is a fascinating player, full of emotionality (some of it angry and combative) and contradictions and humor and fierce will. As a columnist I love rich hardballers (Geffen is worth over $5 billion) who are tough and know all the angles and how to play everything to their advantage, but Lacy’s doc is not about that territory. Not really.
“Inventing David Geffen is an agreeable thing, nostalgic for the ’60s and ’70s, flavorful and amusing at times and ‘honest’ as far as it goes but basically friendly and affectionate. Lacy obviously likes Geffen, and after watching her film it’s hard not to feel the same. He’s a kick, he’s been around, he’s lived it, he knows everyone.
“But if after seeing this film you want a less varnished portrait that’s probably closer to the real deal, dust off the late Tom King‘s 2001 biography — “The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys and Sells The New Hollywood.” Now that had real juice and adrenalin and aroma and nerve, you bet! Geffen hated it, calling it a hatchet job and conniving and agenda-driven, but if you read Lisa DePaulo’s June 2001 New York article about how King and Geffen’s relationship began amiably with a written agreement to give King access and then deteriorated and got worse and worse until everything was poison, it’s hard to accept Geffen’s view that King just set out to trash him with little regard for truth or fairness or appropriate journalistic standards.
During the PBS press q & a event Geffen said he’d “had no input into this film, honestly,” referring to Lacy’s doc. “I had nothing to do with the makeup of those questions. I wanted to tell the story as accurately as I can. I had no idea what this was gonna be. I didn’t think I was a good candidate for this thing. But I was happy with it.
“I’m proud of all the things I’ve done,” he said. “I [see] this film and I think, ‘wow, you did have all that.’ I don’t think about the past. I think about what I’m doing now. I really don’t reflect on my career. I don’t like to talk about myself. I avoid it as much as possible. When I saw the film, I thought ‘wow’…I was impressed.”