Thursday, October 28, 2010

A New Documentary Asks WHO Is HARRY NILSSON?


The long silly title of this film obviously pokes fun at the fact that these days not many people are likely to know who Harry Nilsson was.

But if you are a fan of the Beatles, the Monkees, or Monty Python you are likely to have at least a tiny inkling of the late semi-legendary singer songwriter.

Also you may know his Grammy winning cover of Fred Neil's “Everybody’s Talking” (the theme song for MIDNIGHT COWBOY) or his hit singles “Without You” and “Coconut.”

Nilsson’s soundtrack for Robert Altman’s POPEYE (1980) may also be familiar.

This fascinating and fast paced documentary tells Nilsson’s story extremely well taking us from his impoverished beginnings through flirtations with fame and sadly concluding with his despondent later years when his voice was shot and his stock at an all time low.

It was a career doomed by drinking and drugs as well as his being terrified to sing his songs live.

A roster of famous friends including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, the Smothers Brothers, Robin Williams, Yoko Ono, Terry Gilliam and many others appear in interview segments to praise Nilsson as well as bury him with their frank depictions of the unruly talent.
But it’s the music that makes the movie roll. We get a good sense of how Nilsson was a one man Beatles – a notion confirmed in the late ‘60s when a “White Album” era John Lennon named him as his favorite “group”, not “performer” mind you.

Hundreds of photographs and lots of juicy archival footage are hauntingly serenaded by Nilsson’s smooth croon and even in lip synched appearances on TV shows such as “Beat Club” Nilsson’s charisma shines through.

Nilsson’s rowdy friendship with ex-Beatle Ringo Starr is given a lot of weight - their projects SON OF DRACULA and the popular children's cartoon "The Point" are touched upon nicely.

With its conventional narrative WHO IS HARRY NILSSON doesn’t break any new musical bio doc ground, but with its wealth of great material, focused scope, and loving detail, that’s fine by me.

It’s a purposeful portrait of a jewel in the rough – a tortured artist with an affecting spirit even when he was scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

Sadly this film never made it theatrically to the Raleigh area. Fortunately it is now available on DVD and streaming on Netflix Instant.

More later...

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