But I had to counter the 90% Rotten Tomatoes ranking of the first sub-par documentary I've seen during this year's generally incredible Milwaukee Film Festival -- Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him).
The first part of the title, I learned, over two hours. He was a talented, yet conflicted, musician who pissed away his life on drugs and alcohol and caroused with celebrities, some of whom lived to tell the tale. This is all well and good and would make a great Behind the Music episode.
The second part of the title, well, that's why I went to the film, and why I left seething. Why are we talking about him? And who is everybody? "Everybody" is apparently every LA music mogul over the age of 55. But if I really wanted to hear Mickey Dolenz reminisce about blow-filled nights in a "massage parlor in Phoenix," I'd buy a TV and turn on Celebrity Rehab. And I never, ever, have I given a shit about what Randy Newman says. In fact, I would like someone to explain to me why he is/was important. Ever.
It's very unfortunate that this film had no relevance for anyone under 45, because clearly Nilsson's music does. Mariah Carey's cover of "Without You" plays a traumatic role in my memories of sitting awkwardly on the sidelines at 8th grade dances, Aimee Mann's interpretation of "One" is undeniably haunting, and did you know long, long before Cee-Lo Green, Harry Nilsson also had a hit cult song called "Fuck You" (well, actually, "You're Breaking My Heart")? I'd also completely forgotten about the awesomeness of the existence of "The Point" until tonight.
The interviews with Nilsson's family were very solid, but kept being overshadowed by the focus on '70s LA outdrugging Lindsay Lohan (there's another contemporary artist they could've pulled in). The most relevant celebrity "character" in the film -- John Lennon-- was deceased longer than Harry himself (although I suppose Yoko was there to represent in the interviews).
It's also no wonder that the audience of North Shore Viagra-poppers ignore their own kids' tragic drug problems, while they long for the good ol' days of tearing it up at parties where there's bottles of cognac and bags of heroin and coke (they actually cheered at one point in the film when this was explicitly described).
During the Q&A (where I was too chicken shit to challenge the "boomer jerk" of this film) the director mentioned how the tapes of Harry Nilsson's autobiography (one of the redeeming parts of the film) were found in his widow's garage. Unfortunately since the interview subjects in the film will all be dead within the next couple of decades, along with the target audience, I doubt the shelf life of this documentary will be much longer.
I guess I shouldn't expect anything but vitriol after seeing a film directed by a guy who also shot a Cubs documentary.
The "pleasant surprise" of my evening was film that wouldn't have been on my list if not for a FUEL Milwaukee event in conjunction with it -- Soundtrack for a Revolution. It did everything Nilsson didn't:
- Integrated contemporary artists who reinterpreted the music of a particular moment in history (even though they weren't interviewed, their participation shows the lasting effects of the songs).
- Had subjects reflecting on how they went about changing the world during those times (the subjects of the next decade were too busy snorting coke off hookers to bother with that).
- Visited a subject the audience is somewhat familiar with, but left you with new knowledge and wanting to learn more.
- Catered to an multi-racial, multi-generational audience.
Ironically, I did see the BIG controversial film of the festival Waiting for "Superman" and still need to write up my thoughts on that, but I guess a well-made film about a controversial subject is better to me than a severely lacking, critically overhyped one about a non-controversial subject.