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

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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David Anderle
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Storyline

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 <dr@martinlewison.com>

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5 October 2004 (USA)  »

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Featured in Zomergasten: Episode #18.4 (2005) See more »

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God Only Knows...
30 November 2006 | by (Arlington, VA.) – See all my reviews

The oft-told tale of triumph and tragedy has been around since the birth of rock-and-roll. The leader of a group concocts a sound that is like no other, catapulting them into undreamed of fame and fortune, yet when he (or she) struggles to move beyond the profitable niche into a place where they can reach for something more substantial, it just about tears the group and their music apart. Demons loom in the foreground and threaten to vanquish Our Hero, until by the grace of some extraordinary miracle, said demons are slain, creation is born out of chaos, and the light at the end of a very long tunnel brings the whole thing to a happy ending.

It's not the way things are resolved for many of music's best and brightest, but "God only knows" that if anyone deserved it, it was Beach Boys wunderkind Brian Wilson. And after nearly forty years, the complete tale is finally told about the Great White Whale of rock albums that nearly destroyed not only Brian, but the iconic concept that was the Boys themselves - the "SMILE" album.

Never a huge fan of the group, their happy, California-sunshiney pop had its place and time, I thought there was a place for their sound, when you were in the mood for that kind of music. But once I began to look beyond songs like "Surfin' Safari" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" and began to discover gems like "Sail On, Sailor", "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" and of course "God Only Knows," I could detect that there was something more underneath the striped shirts-and-board shorts persona. There was more to be said, things that were only being hinted at...and that's when part of the "SMILE" story came to light for me.

BEAUTIFUL DREAMER finally fills in the gaps, revealing all the triumph, tragedy and ultimate renewal of Brian Wilson as an artist, a composer and a man. You always get the juicy and convenient sound bites these days about any group's good times and bad times, about the influence their work has on other musicians and writers and all the behind-the-scenes squabbles, in-fighting and machinations.

But you will probably never again hear it told as vividly or engagingly by friends, admirers and some of the people who were actually there when it happened.

And then there is the man himself...Having gone from enormous success, to the deepest depression and obsession leading to a downward spiral into madness, rising like a phoenix once again to solve the conundrum of the project that consumed and nearly destroyed his life, only to give it back to him again...

What a story, and what an album. For music lovers, for fans and non-fans alike of Mr. Wilson and his brothers and compatriots, this is an essential, spellbinding viewing experience.

I can happily speak from experience, that there is nothing like seeing this music performed live...but BEAUTIFUL DREAMER comes awfully close to equaling the joy and wonderment of the experience, if it can't duplicate it outright.


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