Roger in "Smile" documentary

L. Bird pkeets at
Mon Oct 4 20:49:24 CDT 2004

TV Review: 'Beautiful Dreamer'

By Ray Richmond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There has always been an 
ignore-the-elephant-in-the-room aspect to Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson, a 
conspiracy of silence that serves largely to gloss over his well-chronicled 
(and ongoing) battle with mental illness.

To the credit of writer-producer-director David Leaf, he doesn't overlook 
Wilson's crippling emotional baggage in Showtime's feature-length "Beautiful 
Dreamer," the documentary film that chronicles the circuitous journey of the 
singer-songwriter's long-shelved concept album "Smile" from its 
controversial abandonment in 1967 through its unlikely release last month -- 
a mere 37 years later.

Yet at the same time, it's a bit sad to watch the way those surrounding 
Wilson must cover for him and steer the sixtysomething legend to the 
equivalent of musical credibility in light of his profoundly eroded skills.

This isn't meant to be cruel, merely realistic. And again, realism doesn't 
often enter the equation when it comes to Wilson. The fact is that he can 
still show flashes of the immense artistry that helped dictate the direction 
of popular music in the 1960s. But his voice is a mere shadow of what it 
once was, and his mental issues continue to reside very much on the surface. 
The fact that the guy is still struggling to fight the good fight for his 
craft is, in some ways, inspiring. A key element of that good fight is the 
fact that Wilson no longer hangs out with opportunistic therapists. And he 
has a fiercely protective ally in wife Melinda.

"Beautiful Dreamer" is the second Wilson TV documentary that relates 
Wilson's warts-and-all story with equal parts compassion, insight and 
denial; the first was "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" in 1995, from 
producer Don Was. "Dreamer" recounts his saga back to the beginning, telling 
of a kid who grew up in quaking fear of an abusive father and who led a band 
that would, ironically, come to symbolize the sun 'n' fun Southern 
California lifestyle that Wilson could never experience.

Wilson is quoted prominently throughout "Beautiful Dreamer," a collection of 
still photos and interviews with an impressive array of studio musicians 
(Hal Blaine, Mike Melvoin), songwriting peers (Burt Bacharach (news), Jimmy 
Webb (news), Wilson's longtime lyricist, Van Dyke Parks) and artists who 
were influenced by Wilson's work (Elvis Costello (news), Rob Reiner, Roger 
Daltrey (news)). Even famed Beatles manager George Martin is on hand to lend 
his two cents about Wilson and his legacy, one of the many here to rave in 
particular about the iconic Beach Boys masterpiece "Pet Sounds" and its 
lingering impact.

Where this docu loses its focus is when it breaks from the past and stories 
of Wilson's drug-fueled, anxiety-induced nervous breakdown in 1967 that 
forced a year of effort on "Smile" to be scrapped (temporarily, as it turned 
out). It's fun to hear accounts of how Wilson wrote "California Girls" in a 
half-hour while coming down from an acid trip and his crafting tunes about 
vegetables as he began to lose touch, but less intriguing to watch and 
listen to the hesitant resumption of work on "Smile" all these years later.

"Beautiful Dreamer" is rife with Leaf's artsy touches, which include askew 
camera angles and onscreen quotations like "Art completes what nature cannot 
bring to finish" (from Aristotle). And while it's moving to see Wilson 
finally performing his long-stillborn project before a wildly enthusiastic 
audience in London this past February, we are still left with the aching 
sense that the man remains somewhat disconnected from his own destiny.

Executive in charge of production: Jonathan Flom; Producers: Steve Ligerman, 
Richard Waltzer, David Leaf, John Scheinfeld; Writer-director: David Leaf; 
Director of photography: James Mathers; Music: Brian Wilson; Editor: Peter 
S. Lynch II; "Smile" conceived and created by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke 

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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