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M. King Adkins,
The documentary explores the enigmatic life and music of Harry Nilsson in an attempt to answer the question, "Who is Harry Nilsson?" The film includes new and archive audio and film including interviews with Robin Williams, Yoko Ono, Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, Ray Cooper, the Smothers Brothers, and Micky Dolenz. "Who is Harry Nilsson?" uses promotional films, music videos, and home movies; segments from the unreleased documentary made during the recording of Son of Schmilsson (Did Somebody Drop His Mouse?); and excerpts from Nilsson's rare TV appearances in his BBC specials, the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour", "Playboy After Dark", and in an episode of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir".Written by
Great account of Nilsson's life; great talking heads; but - make that BUT - not nearly enough music
Biodoc on the enigmatic singer/songwriter who, according to friends' accounts, spent the last 15 years of his relatively short life seemingly on a mission of self-destruction. He died at 52, overweight and dissipated, of heart disease, after a protracted rampage of virtually non-stop overindulgence in alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and cocaine, raucous partying, and flagrant misuse of his vocal instrument (he confided to a friend that he shouted out his lyrics at one performance with such force that spattered blood was left on the microphone).
All of this despite the fact that he was: (1) widely considered to have perhaps the most gifted pop singing ability of his generation; (2) successful, after years of effort, in terms of industry acclaim - a Grammy, an Oscar, a decent recording contract with a top label, and at least two stellar albums - 'Nilsson Schmilsson' (originals), and 'A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night' (standards); and (3) very happily married (for the third time), with a lovely young family that he seemed to adore.
The film's strengths begin with the completeness of its account of Nilsson's life, including fine use of archival film footage and many stills of Nilsson; the editors do an especially good job of bringing movement to the stills. We learn of his close ties to John Lennon and, later, Ringo Starr (Lennon often said that Nilsson was his favorite American musician).
Even more impressive are the talking heads, often a documentary's weakest aspect. Here we get people like Perry Botkin, Jr., Ray Cooper, Mickey Dolenz, Terry Gilliam, Mark Hudson, Eric Idle, Rick Jarrard, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb and Robin Williams, all telling amazing stories about Nilsson many uproariously funny, others deeply pathetic - and everyone conveying their deep affection for him. Equally informative and moving are interview segments with Nilsson's wives Annie and Una, his son Zach, and cousin Doug Hoefer. Best set of heads I can recall in a biodoc.
The most glaring deficiency of the film is that it crowds out Nilsson's music. Even the performance of his greatest hit, "Without You," is cut short after about 8 bars. Arrrrgh!! There is no excuse for this, not given that the movie runs a full two hours as it is. Lose a few head shots and we could have heard at least that song through, and perhaps one or two more, like "One," or his Oscar winning cover of "Everybody's Talking.'" The filmmakers are simply too intent on plumbing Nilsson's psychological mystique and not attentive enough to his music. My grades: 7.5/10 (low B+) (Seen at the NWFC's Reel Music series, 01/07/07)
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