Monday, September 5, 2011

The Genius, Joy and Sadness of A Great Songwriting Partnership

Richard & Robert Sherman created some of the most memorable movie music of the last 50 years, writing songs for films such as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Parent Trap and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Their story is told in the 2009 documentary, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, and it’s a unique portrait of these two talented, but very different, individuals. It covers their remarkable story from their beginnings as young songwriters, to their Academy Award winning success with Mary Poppins, and beyond.

Interviews with those who worked with them, (Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Hayley Mills) are interspersed with reminisces by their family and friends. A good portion of the film covers their close relationship with Walt Disney, and their years spent working as part of the Disney family.  Along the way, we’re treated to clips from many of the films and stage productions they worked on, along with commentary by contemporary artists, actors & directors (Ben Stiller, singer-songwriter Randy Newman, Pixar’s John Lasseter, among others), who talk about the influences of this amazing duo, and their remarkable body of work.

But that’s not the whole story. What makes the film fascinating is it’s in-depth examination of the relationship between the two brothers. Like many great songwriting partnerships, it’s the very differences in their personalities that make their collaboration so successful. But it’s those qualities that also cause friction in their relationship, and are the cause of some personal heartbreak. Outside of their working relationship, the brothers (and even their families), don’t seem to socialize, and their intense working relationship causes some personal heartbreak. The film (produced & directed by the duo’s sons, Gregory B. & Jeff Sherman), tries to get to the heart of this complicated, but deep, relationship, and provide some answers (and some closure) regarding the brothers’ history.

If you’re a fan of any of the films mentioned above (especially their Disney work, though Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a personal favorite of this author), or are interested in a well made examination of the creative process, and how it informs & affects the relationship of the artists doing the work, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (available on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) is highly recommended.

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