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If you're already a fan of Nilsson, then I don't need to convince you to watch this revealing, fervent portrait of a deeply talented yet under-appreciated artist, an emblem of the best the Sixties had to offer (and the worst excess that followed in the Seventies). And if you aren't a fan of Nilsson yet, then this doc, filled with heartfelt personal interviews and invaluable performance footage, will no doubt turn you into one.
This is a small, intimate documentary that answered my questions about who is Harry Nilsson and why is everybody talking about him. From his beginnings, through childhood, rise, fall, rebirth and death, the film provides insights into the man, his music, and his influence through voice overs, performances and interviews with the people who worked with him and love be him. Listening to Nillson Schnillson now for the very first time.
In which a film title poses a question that I cannot quickly answer, I'm intrigued. Perhaps it's an embarrassment that I didn't know who Harry Nilsson was until watching engrossing 2010 rock doc "Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?"; his songs have, unbeknownst to me, passed through my life on many occasions. I can instantaneously recognize his 1972 cult classic "Coconut," which was a childhood favorite of mine (it was memorably covered by The Muppets), and I'm fond of his rendition of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," whose delicate melody was easily the best thing about 1969's iconic "Midnight Cowboy." My knowledge is limited, sure, but I'm positive that I'm not the only person living who might be familiar with Nilsson's musicianship but not necessarily with Nilsson himself.
So it's a good thing that the documentary is a fine one. As is the case with almost all docs that find their interest in a forgotten figurine, we're posed with a question that some works don't always have the cohesiveness to answer: why should we care about _____? Fortunately, the film, written and directed by John Scheinfeld, is investigative and sympathetic, analyzing its titular figure without romanticism while also scrutinizing the darker sides of celebrity. It's a heady combo that doesn't always go quite as deep as we'd like it to - Nilsson, who died in 1994, still comes across as a singing/songwriting legend by its end, never to turn into flesh and bone - but the film is cogent and heartfelt.
It's the adoration in the eyes of those interviewed that gets to us the most. As "Who is Harry Nilsson?" travels through the highs and lows of its eponymous center, its talking heads (including Robin Williams, Paul Williams, Terry Gilliam, among others) speak of Nilsson as if he were one of the most important people to ever affect their lives; almost everyone involved seems to understand him, to love him for the flawed man that he was. The atmosphere is a sentimental one, and it makes for an appropriate countering to the gloomy nature of much of the film.
Nilsson was certainly a musical great - he was voted No. 62 in "Rolling Stone's" "The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time" list - but his warm vocals and knowing presence was oftentimes supplemented by self-destruction. A victim of alcoholism and sporadic drug use, his abuses and his insecurities are touched upon in an unflinchingly honest fashion; his pitfalls are never understated. They're amplified, and that's the film's biggest strength. Scheinfeld goes out of his way to paint a clear portrait of his subject, and such is not always an easy thing to do when admiration is part of the equation.
And admiration is a part of "Who is Harry Nilsson?," but I like how well the movie at once worships Nilsson while still acknowledging his neuroses. The behind-the-music ambience of it all might have to do with the fact that Nilsson himself wasn't alive during production (and because several crucial people in his life, including Ringo Starr and George Tipton, chose not to participate), but the film remains to be distinctly informative and distinctly commiserative. Everybody's talking about Harry Nilsson because he was a genius as well as a multifaceted man - and there's nothing forgettable about that. If only time weren't such a cruel force.
Best music documentary I've ever seen.
So, who is Harry Nilsson?
That's a question this informative and breezy documentary seeks to answer, after starting with the tantalizing opening of Dustin Hoffman announcing Nilsson's premature death onstage at a benefit while mentioning the vocals Nilsson provided for the film "Midnight Cowboy."
In fact, of all the songs he wrote and sung, Nilsson was best known for "One" which was inspired by of all things a telephone's busy signal and popularized by the band Three Dog Night.(I'm partial to the Aimee Mann version myself.) Otherwise, his friends and loved ones regale with stories of his wild partying while never losing sight of the family he raised.
Otherwise, the documentary is too dismissive of his work on behalf of the gun control movement, which Nilsson took up after the tragic slaying of John Lennon.(Nilsson and the Beatles had a mutual appreciation and friendship.) Otherwise, there is much speculation, especially in the sour grapes and amateur psychology departments, about Nilsson not being able to sustain his success. But sometimes there is no easy explanation.
While you may not know his name, but you know his music One, Everybody's Talkin', You're Breakin' My Heart, Cuddly Toy, Coconut, Best Friend, Without You. He was best friends with Ringo Starr, made albums with John Lennon, well-regarded by Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, and Terry Gilliam who speak fondly of him in this doc. All that being said, there's nothing that really makes this stand out from other biopics. He grew up in a rough, impoverished background without a father, he had failed marriages & eventually killed himself through years of alcoholism. Sounds like Walk Hard all over again. That being said, he was an interesting and talented cat and this doc makes sure this musical genius and his colorful history aren't forgotten.
As duas horas de "Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everybody talkin' about him)?" decorrem como uma batalha entre duas partes igualmente fortes: de um lado os clichés do documentário sobre o músico auto-destrutivo (escola VH-1), do outro o irresistível fascínio provocado por um songwriter que tão depressa escrevia a balada mais doce como uma canção de despedida tão amarga quanto possível. Felizmente, a segunda parte vence, porque a vida de Harry Nilsson deixou boas histórias para contar e gravações mágicas de sessões feitas para a BBC, e uma discografia diversa merecedora de uma apreciação igualmente colorida. Ficamos também a saber que a musa de Nilsson foi muitas vezes o sonho de ser o quinto Beatle. Quando o sonho termina (após o marco "Nilson Schmilsson"), repetem-se os episódios de consumo de droga com um predominante gosto agridoce (é triste ouvir Nilsson a pedir bebida e heroína a meio de uma sessão de estúdio, mas o insólito disso também não deixa de ser engraçado). "Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everybody talkin' about him)?" nunca esconde a bipolaridade do seu objecto e isso é de louvar. (curiosidade: em algumas fotografias o rosto de Nilsson é incrivelmente parecido com o de Elliott Smith)
Very good doc about reaching the line of no return then cartwheeling over it.....bittersweet tale of excess and then some.
So many great songs, interesting story.
Great documentary about a great and supremely talented guy. Charming and fun.