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Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of 'Smile' (2004)

TV Movie  |  TV-14  |  Documentary  |  5 October 2004 (USA)
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Interviews with Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his contemporaries outline the history of Wilson's album "Smile," a project some 37 years in the making.


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Title: Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of 'Smile' (TV Movie 2004)

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This film tells (using modern day interviews and archival footage and sound tapes) the story of how in 1967, while his band The Beach Boys triumphantly toured abroad, Brian Wilson was trying to push the boundaries of conventional pop music with a new follow-up to the Beach Boys' cutting-edge mega-hit, Pet Sounds. The new album was to be called "SMiLE". SMiLE pushed the envelope both musically and lyrically, and was supposed to out-do the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper record. But Brian wasn't able to sell the project to his band-mates when they returned. The project was shelved and Wilson's well-documented decline into depression, drug abuse, recluseness, and obesity had begun. Thirty-odd years later, Wilson announced that in 2004, SMiLE would be performed live in its entirety in London. This film tells the story of a damaged but healing artist bringing his greatest work to light. Written by Martin Lewison <>

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A wonderful film full of "heroes and villains"
18 December 2004 | by (Grover Beach, CA) – See all my reviews

"Beautiful Dreamer" is a lovingly produced account of the rise and tragic fall of Brian Wilson and his subsequent musical and spiritual rebirth, centered around the piece of music that was both his undoing and his salvation--the legendary pop symphony "SMiLE." Using straightforward narrative and extensive interviews from friends, collaborators and "witnesses," David Leaf's film follows Brian from his creative zenith with the Beach Boys, 1966's incomparable "Pet Sounds," through his creation with lyricist Van Dyke Parks of an even more ambitious follow-up, 1967's ultimately-aborted "Smile" project. Participants as diverse as Sir George Martin, Paul McCartney, Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, Elvis Costello, Leonard Bernstein (in archival footage) and many others recall how Wilson inspired them to create some of their best work, not least of which was the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album.

The documentary clearly puts the blame for Brian's collapse (and "Smile"'s failure) at the feet of the other Beach Boys and especially Mike Love, who envisioned the group as a "cash cow" as long as nobody messed with the cars/surf/girls "formula". Interviewees (Wilson's closest friends among them) debunk longstanding urban legends about Brian's alleged drug use and its supposed blame for his collapse, and the film offers glimpses inside Brian's paranoia--notably how he came to believe his composition "fire" was actually causing buildings to burn.

Most inspiring, the documentary shows how Wilson's backup band, the amazing alt-pop group the Wondermints, helped him to revisit the original compositions and augment and arrange the surviving segments into a cohesive score. It's truly inspiring to see Wilson's transformation from the throes of depression and mental illness to joyous, unencumbered musical genius as the completed "SMiLE" debuts to a sellout crowd in London.

Rich with rare archival footage and revealing interviews, "Beautiful Dreamer" handles its subject with care, giving both longtime Wilson fans and newcomers plenty to "smile" about.

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