Lily Tomlin

Institute History

  • 1987 Sundance Film Festival


Broomfield and Churchill make films (Chicken Ranch, Soldier Girls) that should be placed in time capsules to give future generations some notion of what our world was about their new production focuses on Lily Tomlin’s one-woman Broadway show, “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” When it opened in September 1985, Frank Rich called it “an idiosyncratic, rude, blood-stained comedy about American democracy and its discontents,” and “the most genuinely subversive comedy to be produced on Broadway in years.” For almost two years prior to that opening night, Nicholas Broomfield and Joan Churchill filmed Tomlin and her longtime collaborator-writer, Jane Wagner, as they built the show from scratch, developing characters, refine the work in rehearsal, polishing it on the road during trial runs.

Lily Tomlin is a film about the creative process and artistic collaboration, not only between Tomlin and Wagner, but, just as importantly, between the two of them and their public. Tomlin is seen in a number of workshop performances, improvising, addressing the audience as technical cues fail, thinking aloud as a line falls flat, picking up steam as particular vignette gathers momentum. Part of the “method,” it appears, is to have a member of her entourage engage the audience in an after-curtain discussion of what they liked and didn’t like. Her public is encouraged to submit comments as well. Lily Tomlin is a telling commentary on this extraordinary artist’s rapport with her public.

— Karen Cooper

Screening Details

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