Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?
Directed by John Scheinfeld
He wrote songs that merged combined Tin Pan Alley with Beatlesque rock, had a voice that could break your heart, earned Grammys and scored hit singles, and could give Keith Moon, Ozzy and company a run for their money in the drinking-and-carousing department. Yet today, Harry Nilsson's name remains known only to Beatles fans and amateur rock historians, a situation this years-in-the-making documentary hopes to remedy.
Director John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon) goes into admirable depth on Nilsson's life and career: his impoverished childhood, his meteoric rise to fame and how it sealed his fate, his marriages and kids, his friendships with Beatles John and Ringo, and, sadly and most significantly, the drinking and drugging that precipitated a 20-year slide into obscurity and death (he died of a heart attack in 1994, at 52). Narrated largely by Nilsson himself from tapes he left for an autobiography, the film also offers plenty of stories and analysis, wistful and otherwise, from friends like fellow songwriters Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman, Robin Williams, and two Pythons. (Most of Nilsson's commentary sounds like he was imbibing, or at least hung over, when he recorded it.) Although the film doesn't really examine the crucial question of just where his musical imagination came from, it does include a wealth of rare clips, home movies and great music, from the famed "Me and My Arrow" (from his animated musical The Point!) to the standards he cut years before Linda Ronstadt and company made it fashionable. Maybe this will spur a Nilsson revival, complete with reissues and a box set; it comes out on DVD in late October after its theatrical run.
Opens September 10 at Cinema Village