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Beach Boys - An American Band / Brian Wilson - I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
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What would the world be like without Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys? Let's forget the notion and enjoy a candid look at the clean-cut harmonizers with An American Band (1985/103 min.), featuring never-before-seen footage and over 40 original hits. Next, a public reawakening after a period of manipulation, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (1995/69 min.) features some refreshingly restrained versions of previous hits. Color/fullscreen.
A magnificent DVD pairing for Beach Boys fans, these two stylistically different films here pretty much represent the two sides of "America's Band." First up is The Beach Boys: An American Band, made at the height of their Reagan-era resurgence after then Interior Secretary James Watt banned them from performing at the nation's capitol on the 4th of July. A colorful, upbeat film, it doesn't entirely gloss over the more downbeat aspects of the Beach Boys saga (parental abuse, mental illness, uncomfortably tight pants, loads of drugs, and Charles Manson), though it does go out of its way to give the story a happy ending, despite the recent death of drummer Dennis Wilson and the group's complete creative standstill. However, what it lacks in perspective, it more than makes up for in priceless footage, including Smile-era studio outtakes, the unreleased 1967 concert in Hawaii, numerous TV appearances, and extensive interview footage from the mid-'70s.
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, on the other hand, goes more out of its way to show the long dark path of head Beach Boy Brian Wilson. While Wilson is now acknowledged as the Mozart of the late 20th century, director Don Was gives us a stark black-and-white portrait of a troubled artist still struggling to get his life back. His reminiscence of dad Murry Wilson's beatings is chilling, and Wilson is as comfortable as he'll ever be in front of the camera bragging up his drug use ("Cocaine... the works... put me in jail") and randomly quoting Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Through it all, Wilson comes across as a complete original, and if the reworkings of his classic songs don't quite match up to the originals, give the guy a break--he just wasn't made for these times. --Kristian St. Clair
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The real meat of this DVD is in the second video, a black & white documentary about Brian, "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times." After 45 years of fandom, I feel like I finally understand something about who Brian is and why, as well as who he has become. Brian is famously candid, and candor is a hallmark of this video. Witness his ex-wife Marilyn and daughters Wendy and Carnie, especially Carnie, whose insights and ironic humor about Life With Brian show her to be wise beyond her 26 years. Collaborators Van Dyke Parks and Tony Asher have fascinating insiders' comments on the creation of "SMiLE" and "Pet Sounds." Rock icons like Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Lindsay Buckingham, John Cale and David Crosby speak articulately about Brian's influence on their own work and relate amazing, funny, awestruck stories about Brian's creative process. I concur with Tom Petty's remark that Brian easily ranks with Beethoven or the great composers of any era. This video also contains some good remakes, sung by Brian at the time the video was made in 1995, prior to Carl's death in 1998, with an excellent band.
Even taken together, these two videos leave a lot out. For instance, Brian's highly controversial therapist, Eugene Landy, is referred to only as "my assistant in the 80's" or "that guy." It's as if he's been turned into You-Know-Who from the Harry Potter books. I find that omission weird. If the guy was a Svengali, let's name names.
Brian's mom, Audree, comes across as so guarded and cautious as to be almost catatonic. Perhaps it's too awful to discuss, but considering the appalling damage that Murry Wilson did to his sons, I kept asking myself the question: where was Audree when Brian and Dennis were being beaten to a pulp? Unknown, captain.
Similarly, contradictory explanations for the demise of SMiLE reveal that there is still a lot of dust hiding under the rug on that one. The only thing clear is the long-lasting emotional devastation that Brian suffered as a result of abandoning the project.
Perhaps it's unfair to expect pop documentaries to cover all the territory that a comprehensive biography of Brian and his brothers would require. All angst and misgivings aside, Brian speaks for himself quite a bit here, and beyond the funny and poignant stories told about him by others, hearing Brian in his own words is worth everything to me. If you're a fan of 20th century popular music and want to understand some things about one of the most influential bands of the rock era, you owe it to yourself to see this DVD. Along the way, you'll hear some great music, and you'll be greatly moved.
"IJWMFTT" shows a mostly lucid Brian, memory surprisingly intact, talking about his creations. But, the reason to watch this bio are the performances. Hearing Carl sing "God Only Knows" with his brohter and mother was a treat. And listening to Brian's ex-wife talk about "Caroline No" segue into Brian totally nailing the song was great stuff.
The Don Was video is slightly overdone. How many people do you need tell you "Brian is a genius"? These are nice people, (Crosby, Nash, Petty) but they don't add anything to the story, except Linda Ronstadt. But it shows Brian at the beginning of his comeback, 1993, and the "Love and Mercy" with his daughters is fabulous! Just click and order this one.
I especially like the Brian Wilson show. The music was produced by Don Was and is superlative - very spare, un-fancy production, just letting the music speak for itself. The choice of songs is great - mostly avoiding the hits in favor of the Brian's sensitive side, many of which I hadn't heard when I first saw the film.
With Brian at piano, they walk through the composition of The Warmth of the Sun, showing its unusual chord progression and its composition the night of Pres Kennedy's death. Very touching.
This DVD is worth having in your library!
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