Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Fantastic Four is "Doomed!"

The Fantastic Four is the title that kicked off the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, and helped start a revolution in the four-color world. But the group’s road to success on the big screen has been a lot more difficult than their battles against super-villains like Dr. Doom and Galactus. While three films featuring the characters have been released to date, none have quite captured the public’s imagination like recent Marvel Studios productions featuring Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. You may be familiar with the 2005 film Fantastic Four, and it’s sequel, 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Both were somewhat successful at the box office, but were not particularly beloved by fans or critics. A 2015 reboot, Fantastic Four, was a significantly troubled production that was a huge failure upon its release, and a film that quickly disappeared from view.

But did you know there was an earlier cinematic version of the super-team’s adventures, co-produced by B-movie veteran Roger Corman? The labyrinthine twists and turns in the production of this unreleased film are recounted in director Marty Langford’s absorbing documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. The movie features extensive interviews with the cast and crew, who were surprised to find out after completing the project that the 1994 film was never intended for release. Apparently, producer Bernd Eichinger of Constantin Films, who owned the screen rights to the characters, had to make a movie, or the film rights would have reverted back to Marvel. Eichinger partnered with Roger Corman, and they entered into an agreement to produce the film for a budget of one million dollars. 

The cast included Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Rebecca Staab as Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grimm, with Carl Ciarfalio portraying his alter ego, The Thing, and Joseph Culp as the evil Dr. Doom. The entire crew, including director Oley Sassone, were passionate about the project, and committed to making a film that would be faithful to the comics, despite the relatively low budget. Everyone hoped the end product would be well received by fans of the characters. Comics fandom was still largely in its pre-internet phase at this point, and the age of the big budget superhero movie was in its infancy. The cast and crew made appearances at Comic-Con and several other events in order to promote the film, often paying for their travel expenses out of their own pockets. The fan community was looking forward to the film, with their interest piqued by meeting the cast at comic book conventions. There were also articles in various genre publications articles detailing the making of the film, including Film Threat, whose writer had visited the set and spent time with the crew.

As the film’s opening date drew closer, rumors began to circulate that the premiere had been cancelled, and the movie wasn’t being released. The film's cast and crew were stunned; everyone had given their all to the production, and they had been excited to view the finished product. The behind the scenes dealings of Bernd Eichinger and Marvel’s Avi Arad were ultimately revealed, and the real reasons for the film's shelving came to light. Making the movie had merely been a way of retaining the option on the characters, so a big budget version of The Fantastic Four could eventually be produced. As with many things in Hollywood, this had all been about the money. But the original film version of the FF's origins refused to die. Bootleg copies of the movie began to surface, and the movie gained a second life with fans who still wanted to see this version of the FF's adventures. 

Director Marty Langford examines the entire history of the movie’s ill-fated production, and talks to virtually all of the cast and crew, including producer Corman and director Sassone. The interviews are frank and insightful, and there's a wealth of behind the scenes footage from the set of the film. Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four is an engrossing story that is definitely worth watching for Marvel fans, and movie aficionados who enjoy behind the scenes stories. The film is one of the best documentaries I've seen recently; it's an engaging, compelling, and revealing Hollywood tale. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and is also available for purchase at http://doomedthemovie.com. Here’s a link to the trailer for Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSgyLDrGgow.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Video Watchdog: An Encomium

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to an old friend. I recently received my copy of the “Farewell Issue” of Video Watchdog magazine. The indispensable “Perfectionist’s Guide to Fantastic Video” has been a part of my life ever since Tim and Donna Lucas began publishing it back in 1990. I remember discovering a copy at my local newsstand, flipping through it, and quickly snatching it up. A publication devoted to all those offbeat movie genres I loved, including sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, which not only took those films seriously, but also provided intelligent writing about them! I was instantly captivated, and in a sense, it was love at first sight. For the next 26 years, VW delighted, informed, amused, thrilled and intrigued me. The comprehensive features, articles and in-depth reviews taught me new things about the filmmakers I already loved, like Ray Harryhausen, Val Lewton and Mario Bava, and gave me fascinating insights regarding my beloved Universal horror films, the Roger Corman Poe cycle, Japanese kaiju movies and the James Bond series, to name a few. VW also encouraged me to check out movies by filmmakers I hadn’t yet discovered, including Jess Franco and Georges Franju. And VW guided me towards additional watching, reading (and listening) with their insightful book reviews, Douglas Winter's fabulous "Audio Watchdog" column, Ramsey Campbell's compelling "Ramsey's Rambles" and Larry Blamire's excellent "Star Turn."

The years between 2006 and 2011 were tough for me, but I could always count on Video Watchdog to provide a welcome diversion during those difficult times. Tim, Donna and their incredible roster of writers never ceased to astonish me with their perceptive and illuminating work. As time went on, and the publishing world changed due to the proliferation of the Internet, normal outlets for newspapers and magazines began to fall by the wayside. I changed from buying my copy of Video Watchdog at Barnes & Noble to becoming a loyal subscriber. The magazine continued to knock it out of the park with extraordinary pieces like the Dark Shadows roundtable in issue 169, an engrossing discussion of the classic Dan Curtis TV series (a personal favorite of mine) as well as an absorbing look at "Quentin Tarantino’s 50 Best Sequels" in issue 171. Basically, every issue and every article was essential reading for me. When Tim and Donna began publishing digital editions of VW, a marvelous magazine become even more magnificent, with added depth and features, and the invaluable ability to view issues of VW on electronic devices. But even those additional benefits couldn’t forestall the effect on traditional magazines the digital revolution had wrought. The publishing world had changed.

When Tim and Donna made their difficult decision to cease publication of Video Watchdog in 2016, I was heartbroken. I realized I would no longer be able to look forward to new issues arriving in my mailbox, and relish the remarkable writing I’d come to enjoy so much. VW has been a part of my life for so long that it was truly like losing a dear friend or family member. Not only did VW entertain and enchant me; it was one of the things that encouraged me to pursue my own writing, something I had long wanted to do. While I’m sad to lose VW, I will always be grateful for the many years of fine work and intelligent writing about the cinema of the fantastic that I’ve been able to savor in its pages. I’d also like to give a special shout out to Donna for her remarkable layouts and production on the magazine, and her awesome work in creating the digital editions of VW. If you’re already a fan of this superb publication, you don’t need me to tell you how incredible it is. If you haven’t checked out Video Watchdog, please head over to their website at http://www.videowatchdog.com, where you can purchase back issues and digitial editions, and check out Tim’s blog. I want to sincerely thank Tim, Donna and everyone who was a part of Video Watchdog over the years for all the joy you’ve given me, and I wish you all the best of luck with your future endeavors.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Horror Hotel: You Might Check In......

College student Nan Barlow needs to complete a paper on the history of witchcraft. Her professor, Alan Driscoll, gives her some advice regarding places where she can go to complete some research. She heads off to the New England town of Whitewood, where a notorious witch named Elizabeth Selwyn was supposedly burned at the stake 250 years ago. She arrives and checks into a local inn, figuring she'll do a little onsite fact-finding. Nan (played by Venetia Stevenson) is warned by Reverend Russell, the local priest (who acts very strangely) not to dig too deep into the town’s past. She ignores his pleas to leave the area, which turns out to be a mistake. Nan ends up getting a very up close and personal look at witchcraft, and learns a lot more than she ever bargained for at the start of her journey. That’s the setup of City of the Dead (US title: Horror Hotel), a memorable 1960 chiller directed by John Llewellynn Moxey. It’s a well-produced British horror film that features genre icon Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Lord of the Rings) in a supporting role as Professor Driscoll.

Venetia Stevenson & Christopher Lee
Nan disappears, and her brother Richard, along with her boyfriend Bill, come to Whitewood to find out what's happened to her. The reverend's daughter, Patricia, tries to help them with their investigation. It seems there's a lot of unusual things happening in this quiet little town. But our heroes don’t understand the evil that surrounds them until it's almost too late. As in films such as Curse of the Demon (1957) and Burn Witch Burn (1962), those who are skeptical about the existence of the supernatural soon learn the truth, with horrifying results. What's really going on in this eerie, fog bound place? Can Richard, Bill and Patricia escape the terrifying forces at work in Whitewood? 

Spoiler alert: skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want a major plot point revealed. Some writers and reviewers have compared the film’s structure to Psycho, which came out around the same time. Like that Hitchcock classic, this movie features a heroine (who appears to be the main character) that checks into an inn early in the film, and ends up dead. Others follow in an attempt to locate her, and discover some deadly and terrifying secrets. It’s likely a coincidence, as City of the Dead began filming over a month before Psycho did, but the two films do make for an interesting comparison. The movie seems much more like an attempt to capture the feel of Hammer's successful horror output than a copycat of Hitchcock's adaptation of the Robert Bloch novel. In fact, the film was released by producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, who went on to form Amicus Productions, one of Hammer's main competitors in the 1960s and 1970s, with movies like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and The House That Dripped Blood (1971).

Director Moxey (who also helmed the classic 1972 TV movie The Night Stalker) and his crew give the film an eerie, atmospheric look, despite its modest budget. He gets good performances out of a mostly British cast; Lee, Valentine Dyall (as a sinister denizen of Whitewood) and Patricia Jessel (in a dual role) are particularly effective. City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) is an entertaining chiller with some truly creepy moments, including an opening sequence that is reminiscent of the one in Mario Bava's Black Sunday. The movie is firmly lodged in Creature Features territory (for those of us old enough to remember those days) which is where I first saw, and got spooked by, this spine-tingling tale. This "hotel" is definitely worth a visit for those looking for some old fashioned fright film fun. The film is available on video from VCI Entertainment. This edition features the British cut of the film, which has a few minutes of footage cut from the US version. Both the Blu-ray and DVD releases have some solid bonus content, including an interview with Lee and a commentary from director Moxey. Here's a link to the film's trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF8PaKcJNWQ.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Solomon's Marvelous "Godzilla FAQ"

One of my fondest memories of growing up in the tri-state area was watching The 4:30 Movie, which aired every weekday on our local ABC affiliate. The awesome thing about it was the programming would include week-long marathons, such as “Planet of The Apes” week, “Beach Party” week, or “Vincent Price” week. But one of the most eagerly anticipated (for me, at least) of them all would be “Godzilla Week” or “Giant Monster Week.” Between those showings on The 4:30 Movie, and Saturday night broadcasts on programs like Chiller Theater, it was easy to indulge my interest in seeing the adventures of Godzilla and other giant monsters such as Rodan and Mothra on a regular basis. Author Brian Solomon has brought back a lot of great memories of those times with his excellent new book, Godzilla FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About The King Of The Monsters. It’s a fascinating look at the history of Godzilla, starting with the original Japanese film, 1954's Gojira, right up through the most recent entry in the franchise, Shin Godzilla, which was released last year.

Godzilla FAQ covers the entire saga of the The Big G, and the innovative people who brought him to life, including director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, special effects icon Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube. In addition to biographies of the talent behind the camera, there are also profiles of the actors and actresses who appeared regularly in the films, including Kenji Sahara and Kumi Mizuno. The book features comprehensive coverage of every movie featuring Godzilla, and Solomon adeptly shows how the character changed and was re-defined over the years in his various incarnations. There’s also a look at 1998's disastrous American version of Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Matthew Broderick, and the more successful 2014 relaunch, directed by Gareth Edwards and featuring Bryan Cranston. That film helped kick off a new series of movies in the US, which will culminate in 2020 with Godzilla facing off once again with his old rival, King Kong. The two monsters first battled in the classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. That iconic 1962 showdown gets its own delightful chapter here. Solomon also takes time to detail the changes made to the initial films in the series for American audiences, including the footage of Raymond Burr that was inserted into Gojira, which was re-worked and released here in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. The book also covers Godzilla's appearances in other media, including comic books and animated series, and provides a peek at the Big G's fan community, as well as his lasting impact on pop culture. 

There are also comments and quotes from other experts on the genre, including authors August Ragone and Stuart Galbraith IV, who provides the book’s introduction. And this wouldn’t be a proper study of Godzilla if it didn’t give us some background on his greatest battles and deadliest enemies, like Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla, and his allies (and sometime foes) like Rodan, Mothra and Anguirus, now would it? It’s all here in this wonderful book, which also features information on the history of Toho Studios (who produced the films) and their non-Godzilla monster and genre output, including The Mysterians and War of the Gargantuas. Brian Solomon is clearly a fan, and his passion for these films shines through in this thoroughly enjoyable, informative and entertaining book. Godzilla FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About The King Of The Monsters is a feast for fans of the giant monster genre. The book is now available at brick and mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble, and it can also be found online at Amazon, or over at Hal Leonard Books, the publisher's website: https://www.halleonard.comAs a force of destruction and devastation, or as a protector of the Earth (as he was in later entries) Godzilla's been a part of our lives for over 60 years, and here's hoping he'll continue to roar for a long time to come. Now I'm going to sit back, pop in my disc of Destroy All Monsters, and fire up some popcorn!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Set Sail with The Crimson Pirate!

When audiences saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean film in 2003, they were entertained by the film’s colorful mix of action and off-kilter humor. But director Gore Verbinski, star Johnny Depp and company weren’t the first filmmakers to poke fun at the genre while still providing action, thrills and excitement along the way. That template was set a half century earlier with 1952’s The Crimson Pirate. Burt Lancaster stars as the title character, who breaks the fourth wall right at the film’s start and urges viewers to “Believe only what you see. No, believe half of what you see!” What follows is a rollicking tale filled with high seas escapades, narrow escapes, swordfights, damsels in distress and vile villains. The Crimson Pirate, like Lancaster’s medieval adventure film, 1950’s The Flame & The Arrow, lovingly spoofs its genre while remaining firmly rooted in its cinematic traditions.

Burt Lancaster & Torin Thatcher in The Crimson Pirate
The setting is the 18th century: Lancaster’s Captain Vallo is happily living the pirate life with his loyal crew when he becomes embroiled in a revolution on a Caribbean island, led by a mysterious figure named El Libre. Vallo initially seeks to make a profit from the conflict, promising the King’s representative, Baron Gruda, that he’ll deliver the elusive freedom fighter to him in exchange for a large reward. But the pirate falls for El Libre’s daughter, the fiery Consuelo, and has a change of heart. Vallo decides to release her and her father. His first mate, the devious Humble Bellows, turns the crew against Vallo and sets the pirate adrift. Bellows believes he can still make a deal with Gruda, and lead the crew in Vallo’s place. Little does he know that Gruda plans to capture both El Libre and the pirates, thus eliminating all his enemies in one fell swoop. Can Vallo escape, stop Gruda, save the girl, and regain control of his ship?

Lancaster plays his role with gusto, running, jumping and leaping across the screen in the film’s dynamic action sequences. His main ally is Vallo’s loyal right hand man Ojo, played by the wonderful Nick Cravat, Lancaster’s former partner from his circus days. Their easygoing chemistry makes them seem like a pirate version of Butch & Sundance, getting into and out of scrapes and tight spots with a mixture of wit, brains and athleticism. The rest of the cast is also ideal for their roles: the lovely Eva Bartok is both good as the fiery Consuelo; Torin Thatcher (best known to genre fans as the evil wizard in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) is appropriately slimy as the double-crossing Bellows, and Leslie Bradley is perfectly evil as the sly but overconfident Baron Gruda. There’s also an inventor named Professor Prudence, played by James Hayter, who’d give James Bond’s Q a run for his money. He contributes several gadgets to the film’s final battle. And keep an eye out for Christopher Lee in a supporting role as one of Gruda’s men.

Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on the classic noirs The Killers and Criss Cross, directed the film. The tone is obviously much lighter here, and the film’s breezy escapism is enriched by the bright hues of Technicolor. The movie was shot in the Bay of Naples, which stood in for the Caribbean, and the lush cinematography is by Otto Heller. The sharp screenplay is by Roland Kibbee, who rewrote an initial draft from the then blacklisted scribe Waldo Salt. The rousing score by William Alwyn is firmly entrenched in the tradition of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s stirring music for previous pirate adventures, such as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. It’s also exciting to see to see the wonderfully choreographed stunts and action sequences in the pre-CGI days when you know you’re watching real people accomplishing these incredible feats of derring-do.

The movie is a true showcase for Burt Lancaster. He’s at the peak of his youthful charisma here, and his unstoppable energy helps keep the movie on course. At this point in his career, he alternated fairly regularly between lighter films and more dramatic fare. While he would star in several more adventure sagas (including His Majesty O’Keefe and Vera Cruz) before settling into a pattern of doing heavyweight projects like Sweet Smell of Success, he’s rarely been more exuberant on screen than he is here. The Crimson Pirate strikes just the right balance between straight adventure and parody, and is an exhilarating, enjoyable saga that will delight adventure fans of all ages. The film is currently out of print on DVD, though used copies can be found online. The movie is available for online viewing on various sites, including Amazon. Here’s a link to the film’s appropriately bombastic trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIfTeDVHvfQ.

This article is part of the Swash-a-thon (The Swashbuckler Movie Blogathon), hosted by Movies Silently. Thanks to Fritzi at that site for hosting, and for allowing me to take part in all the swashbuckling fun! You can view the entries at: http://moviessilently.com/2017/07/14/the-swashathon-is-here/.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Retro Movie: Battle Beyond The Stars

There have been countless re-makes and re-workings of Akira Kurasowa’s Seven Samurai (1954), including the classic western The Magnificent Seven (1960). In 1980, prolific B-movie producer Roger Corman (hoping to cash in on the success of the Star Wars films) served up a science-fiction version of the tale entitled Battle Beyond The Stars. As the film opens, Sador (John Saxon, veteran of a galaxy of genre movies, including Enter The Dragon and the original Nightmare on Elm Street) is a ruthless warlord who shows up in orbit above the planet Akir (named as an homage to Kurasowa), whose peace-loving people are farmers. He threatens to use his ultimate weapon, a “Stellar Converter” on the planet, unless the people surrender to him, and turn over their crops. He leaves a small ship in orbit of the planet to guard them, and vows to return to pick up his tribute.

What can these peaceful farmers do? Shad (Richard Thomas: that’s right, John-Boy of The Waltons) volunteers to find a group of mercenaries to help them fight. He jumps into an old ship and heads into space, where he meets up with Nanelia, the daughter of an old friend of his people. Shad then recruits an intergalactic trucker from Earth nicknamed “Space Cowboy” played by George Peppard (The A Team) and Gelt, an assassin on the run, portrayed by Robert Vaughn, best known for his role as Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. A few others also join the fight. Sybil Danning (in quite the form-fitting costume) plays the lovely but deadly warrior known as St. Exmin of the Valkyrie. Then there's a group consciousness known as Nestor, and a reptilian being known as Cayman of the Lambda Zone, who has a very personal score to settle with Sador.

George Peppard & Richard Thomas
The team heads back to Akir, where they prepare for a showdown. Can Sador be defeated? Who will survive the battle? Will St. Exmin pop out of her costume, to the delight of teenage boys (and their Dads) everywhere? The film is an enjoyable, well-made B-movie. Director Jimmy T. Murakami keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and stretches the small budget to make the film look like an "A" picture. Thomas is good (if a little bland at times) in the lead, and he's got a great group of actors backing him up. The supporting cast is excellent. Vaughn is wonderful in his role, which is essentially a reprise of his character from The Magnificent Seven. Peppard has a lot of fun as "Space Cowboy" and John Saxon effectively chews the scenery as the evil Sador.

The film has some interesting talent behind the scenes. Producer Corman is well known for giving many actors, directors and other crew members their first jobs on his films, and Battle Beyond The Stars is no exception. For this project, a young model maker named James Cameron was promoted to work on the special effects and production design for the film. That’s right, the James Cameron of The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic and Avatar fame. The rousing music is by the late James Horner, who also scored Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Apollo 13 and Braveheart, among many others. The clever, witty screenplay is by Oscar nominated writer/director John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, Lone Star) who used the money he made writing scripts for Corman to help fund his own first feature, Return of the Secaucus 7Trivia fans take note: look for Jeff Corey, who appeared in an episode of the original Star Trek series, “The Cloud Minders,” in a small role as Zed, Marta Kristen (Judy of Lost in Space fame) as Lux, who takes a shine to Peppard’s character, and a brief cameo by Julia Duffy (pre-Newhart) as an ill-fated woman captured by Sador’s forces.

Corman would later re-use some of the effects sequences and music from this film in some of his other productions, including Space Raiders (1983) and Sorceress (1982), so you may feel like you've seen the film before, even if you haven't actually watched it. Battle Beyond The Stars is an enjoyable popcorn film that you'll appreciate a bit more if you’re a sci-fi fan, and are familiar with its influences. I have to admit, I saw this at the local drive-in during its original release, and it remains a guilty pleasure for me. The film is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD, with a nice assortment of extras, including an audio commentary by Corman and Sayles, and an interview with Richard Thomas. Here's a link to an ad for the DVD & Blu-ray release, which features the original trailer for the film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sySWfZ8oS3Q. And remember, as St. Exmin says "Live fast, fight well, and have a beautiful ending."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Everybody's Talkin' About Harry Nilsson

Who is Harry Nilsson? You're probably familiar with some of his songs: “One,” which was a hit for Three Dog Night, "Best Friend" the theme from the television series The Courtship of Eddie's Father, or "Jump Into The Fire" originally recorded by Harry, but later covered by Warren Zevon. Then there are the memorable songs that Harry had hits with, which were written by others: “Without You,” the heart-wrenching ballad by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger, and “Everybody’s Talkin,” the theme to Midnight Cowboy, penned by Fred Neil. Nilsson hung out (and worked with) The Beatles, Keith Moon and The Monkees, among others. However, fame took its toll on him. It’s an often told tale in the music business: struggling singer-songwriter makes it big and finds great success, but drug and alcohol abuse cause a spiral into a self-destructive tailspin. The artist rises out of that dark place, and then unfortunately dies much too early. In many ways, that template fits what occurred with Nilsson, but it's only part of the story: the fascinating 2010 documentary Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?) gives us a well-rounded picture of the man, his music, and his all too brief life.

Nilsson came to prominence in the 60s as a singer-songwriter. His first real success came after The Monkees recorded his song “Cuddly Toy.” He released a series of beautifully produced albums (including Pandemonium Shadow Show, Harry and Nilsson Schmilsson) with songs featuring witty and incisive lyrics, and hummable melodies. Artists like The Beatles stood up and took notice, and his songs were covered by the likes of Glenn Campbell and The 5th Dimension. In fact, when asked in a late 1960s interview who their favorite American group or artist was, John and Paul both responded “Nilsson.” That mutual respect (Nilsson was a huge fan and had covered several Beatles tunes on his albums) grew into a strong friendship with the Fab Four, especially John and Ringo, which is discussed in the film. Interviews with family members, as well as other famous friends like Yoko Ono, Micky Dolenz, Eric Idle, and Randy Newman sketch a loving, thoughtful and yet realistic portrait of Nilsson. Its definitely a "warts and all" story.

Producer Richard Perry, who worked with Nilsson on some of his most successful albums, talks about his great talent, his perfectionism and his complicated personality. Perry tells a great story about the recording of the hit song “Coconut,” and how Nilsson decided on using different voices for the various characters. Nilsson's problem was that he was often his own worst enemy, and sabotaged his career with bad judgment or foolish behavior. But he also did things that later became successful trends in the business. Well before rock stars sang pop standards on a regular basis, Nilsson recorded an entire album of them entitled A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973). He also released a well-regarded album of compositions by fellow singer-songwriter Randy Newman, Nilsson Sings Newman.

Another interesting point made in the film is that Nilsson never actually toured or performed live concerts during his most successful years, but still managed to have a host of best selling albums and hit singles. He even recorded a BBC “live” concert special that had no real audience! The movie highlights some of the other projects Nilsson worked on, including the acclaimed 1971 animated film The Point, featuring a story and songs by Nilsson, including “Me & My Arrow,” the critically lambasted and little seen 1974 rock musical Son of Dracula (co-starring Nilsson's pal Ringo Starr) and his work on the songs for the Robert Altman film Popeye (1980), which is discussed by Robin Williams, one of the stars of that film. Also covered are the darker periods of Nilsson’s life, when drinking and drug use took its toll on him, professionally and personally. His partying took on legendary proportions, including taking part in John Lennon’s famous “Lost Weekend” in LA. The interviewees don’t flinch in their honesty about this aspect of his life, but through it all their love and respect for him still comes through. One of the observations made by Yoko is that Harry's younger years echoed Lennon’s in many ways, and this informed the way both men viewed the world, and how they lived. 

Nilsson managed to get healthy and found renewed happiness with his third wife Una and their children. After Lennon’s death in 1980, Nilsson spent the latter part of his life advocating gun control, and was very active in lobbying for better handgun laws, performing at Beatlefest conventions to raise money for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He started recording again and began working on new projects. Sadly, Harry died of heart failure in January 1994. The film (written and directed by John Scheinfeld) is a comprehensive portrait of this complex, talented man, and features some wonderful performance clips and in studio footage of this amazing artist. The movie is available on DVD and for digital download on various sites. The disc version includes extended interviews and additional performances. If you are a fan of his music, or the songs and artists of the 1960s & 1970s, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?) is a must see. Here's a link to the trailer for the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoFpvG5fb-0 and
and performances of "Everybody's Talkin" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AzEY6ZqkuE and "Gotta Get Up" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwQa_Ot7ss8.

Please Note: If you enjoy reading my work here on Eclectic Avenue, I'd like to let you know that I'm also writing for CultureSonar, an excellent arts & entertainment website. Please check them out at www.culturesonar.com. Here are links to a couple of my recent posts, a feature about Badfinger's "Straight Up," http://www.culturesonar.com/badfinger-straight-up/, and a look at Otis Redding's "Otis Blue" http://www.culturesonar.com/otis-blue-album/. Thanks for reading!