Roger in "Smile" documentary
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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
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
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