Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
November 14, 2010 by Dennis Amith
When it comes to documentaries that pay tribute to a rock star or musician, “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” is possibly one of the best I have seen. Featuring archived footage with Nilsson and the Beatles members, producers, songwriters, celebrities, family and friends. A magnificent documentary!
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DVD TITLE: Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?
YEAR OF FILM RELEASE: 2010
DURATION: 116 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color and B&W, 4:3
COMPANY: Lorber Films
RATED: N/A (Film contains language which may not be suitable for all audiences. Not rated)
RELEASE DATE: October 26, 2010
Written and Directed by John Scheinfeld
Executive Producer: Lee Blackman
Producer: David Leaf, John Schenfeld
Co-Producer: Peter S. Lynch II
Music by Harry Nilsson
Cinematography by James Mathers
Edited by Peter S. Lynch II
Starring (and featuring from archived footage):
Perry Botkin Jr.
Van Dyke Parks
Who Is Harry Nilsson…?, a wildly entertaining, star-studded documentary tells the story of one of the most talented and versatile singer-songwriters in pop music history and the man The Beatles dubbed their favorite American musician. The Grammy® Award-winners “Everybody’s Talkin” and “Without You”…the quirky “Coconut” (“Put de lime in de coconut…”)…the whimsical “Me And My Arrow,” and the poignant “One” (“…is the loneliest number”)…these recordings are all the work of Harry Nilsson. The documentary, which Ain’t It Cool News said, is “everything a great documentary needs to be,” reveals his spirited relationship with John Lennon and close bond with Ringo Starr, as well as Harry the legendary “bad boy” party animal who was at the same time a devoted husband and father. Director John Scheinfeld brings added emotion and intimacy to the story with over 50 Nilsson recordings, rare or never-before-seen film clips, home movies and personal photos. To this are added compelling interviews with top music and movie personalities who knew Harry well. They include Micky Dolenz, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Al Kooper, Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, Van Dyke Parks, The Smothers Brothers, Jimmy Webb, Paul Williams, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson and many others. As film critic Leonard Maltin noted, “Who Is Harry Nilsson? is a vivid portrait of a gifted man…what a great reminder of his talent.” The DVD also contains 93 minutes of Bonus Material – Deleted Scenes, Extended Sequences, an Alternate Ending and more.
For many people who grew up in the late ’60s and ’70s, Nilsson is a name recognized by many as it was the single name that the Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney talked about when asked what American artists or bands they listened to.
From hit songs such as “Without You” (which was covered by Mariah Carey), “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City”, “Everybody’s Talkin'” (from the movie “Midnight Cowboy”), “Coconut” and “Jump into the Fire”, he was also a well-known songwriter who wrote tracks for The Monkees, Three Dog Night and Aimee Mann.
The man behind these songs was Harry Nilsson, a Grammy Award winner, an artist who has had tremendous success and was regarded as one of the most incredible singer/songwriters of his time. But for those who really knew him, they also saw a man of extremes. A man who was focused on music but also had his own personal demons which never got better as he was hooked on drugs and alcohol. A man who had it all and then nearly lost it all.
“Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” is a documentary written and directed by John Scheinfeld. A documentary that explores Nilsson’s youth, to his early songwriting and music years to the height of his career and his multiple musical collaborations up to his death.
Scheinfeld interviews nearly everyone who worked with Harry Nilsson, who hung out and partied with Harry as well as interviewing his family members and more.
The documentary also shows us every facet of Harry Nilsson. From growing up in Brooklyn and he and his mother being abandoned by his father and inspired the song “1941”. This left him and his mother in extreme poverty which led him to leave home at the age of 15 and head to California where he worked at the Paramount Theater and also worked at a bank (he lied about graduating high school to get the job). Despite dropping out of high school at ninth grade in order to make a living, he was an intellect and literally soaked everything up he had learned. So, while living in Los Angeles, working on the bank’s computer at nights, he was able to focus on singing and songwriting and even becoming part of an Everly Brothers type of act.
While receiving singing lessons from his uncle, by chance, Harry met with songwriter Scott Turner and immediately Turner saw talent in Nilsson and gave him a job to sing demos and also write songs for $5 a track. Nilsson eventually became popular as a songwriter and writing for many producers.
But it was not until 1966 when RCA Victor signed Harry Nilsson and literally impressed people not just by his songwriting skills but also his vocals. One of those people was Derek Taylor, the press officer for the Beatles who bought a box of his album and started sharing it with the members of the Beatles and others. And sure enough, Nilsson impressed the members of the Beatles who would say in their 1968 press conference for Apple Corps of who their favorite American artist or or group were and both John Lennon and Paul McCartney said “Nilsson” and from that moment, Nilsson’s popularity had surged with the release of his song “You Can’t Do That”.
Nilsson was a big fan of the Beatles and in many ways, he dreamed of being the fifth Beatle. So, the fact that the Beatles mentioned his name and eventually Nilsson ended up hanging out with members of the Beatles put him in cloud nine.
But as quickly Harry Nilsson became a superstar and started to get involved in hard partying, he also became addicted to alcohol and drugs. To the point where even recording music, he would get the musicians all high on drugs and needless to say, the documentary interviews the musicians and all the people who did hang out with Harry Nilsson, as he was known for his hard partying and people who accompanied him knew that when Harry called and asked them to come out, they would never know when they would be back.
The documentary also explores the family of Harry and his three marriages, especially his relationships with his children and possibly the part that people want to know about, Harry’s friendship and collaborations with John Lennon, Ringo Starr and others. But also the changes Nilsson had went through after his friendship with John Lennon and what happened to him after Lennon was murdered.
“Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” is an in-depth documentary which includes archived footage, home videos plus interviews with people who knew him well such as Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Micky Dolenz, Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, The Smothers Brothers, Three Dog Night, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson, his family and many, many more.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” is presented in full screen (4:3) and is presented in Stereo. It’s important to note that this documentary incorporates classic to modern footage and so picture quality and audio quality differ depending on what is featured on screen. But for the most part, the overall quality of the film looks and sounds very good on DVD. Footage is in color and black and white.
“Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?”comes with the following special features:
- Trailer – (1:57) The theatrical trailer for “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?”.
- Additional Interviews & Deleted Scenes – There was a plenty of footage that was cut from the documentary to keep it under two hours and so many fans of this documentary who wished there was more, well there is more!
– Loneliness – (7:01) Yoko Ono talks about working with Harry and singing her song “Loneliness”. Featuring the music video for Harry Nilsson’s “Loneliness”.
– Washington Hotel – (1:12) Harry Nilsson’s ex-wife Diane talks about Harry performing in London at the Washington Hotel.
– Singer – (5:50) Friends who worked with Harry talk about Harry Nilsson, the vocalist.
– Songwriter – (6:44) Friends who worked with Harry talk about Harry Nilsson, the songwriter.
– Nilsson Schmilsson – (7:38) How Nilsson’s popular album came about. Richard Perry talks about the creation of the album.
– Without You – (6:14) How “Without You” came to be and how Nilsson thought about the song.
– A Little Touch – (12:25) What happened when Nilsson called Derek Taylor, Gordon Jenkins and friends to work on a “standards” album.
– Promo – (2:50) Nilsson and friends talked about creating a promo. A bet he did with RCA that he can produced the cheapest commercial for $5,000 budget for his single.
– Try – (1:56) Friends talk about how Harry Nilsson wanted to do one last album before he died.
– Adventures – (10:28) Harry’s friends talk about their adventures with Harry.
– Human Fly – (1:57) Harry talks about he and Jimmy spending time in London and how they were on the 9th floor and the sliding door on the balcony had locked and they were stuck. And what ensued next was Harry doing something incredibly crazy.
– Monty Python – (7:13) Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam talk about how they met Harry Nilsson during a “Monty Python” stage show. Eric Idle sings the song he made for Harry.
– Fools – (1:55) Harry Nilsson did not suffer fools. Despite dropping out of high school, Nilsson was an intellectual.
– Generosity – (4:18) Musicians talk about how Harry didn’t have an ego and welcomed people. And also friends saying that he helped many people including talent by giving them large amounts of money when they were in need.
– Family – (6:01) Una Nilsson talks about her life with her husband Harry, how they named their children and also his children talk about their father and what he taught them.
– Annie – (1:20) Annie Nilsson talks about her memories of her father and how he saved her life when she was three.
– Harry – (5:40) Friends talks about their memories of Harry and give us the positives and negatives of his personality.
– Remember – (3:36) Family and friends reflect on how Harry should be remembered. Featuring a montage of home videos.
I have to admit that I only knew of Nilsson’s music growing up. I was only a young boy when I started hearing his music on the radio or family members playing it and I never knew anything about the man behind the music. So, when I first saw the trailer, the first thing that came to my mind is, “why is there a documentary on the guy who sung the ‘coconut’ song?”
Needless to say, after watching “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?”, I was blown away and pretty much feeling that I have watched one of the best music documentaries paying tribute to a music artist.
It’s one thing to focus on the music and it’s another thing to find archived footage, but what I found remarkable about this documentary is the fact that John Scheinfeld was able to get the participation of those who worked with Harry, family and friends and rarely do you see all these talents coming together for one man. So, that goes to show you how much Nilsson’s music and most of all, Harry Nilsson himself, had touched the lives of many people he encountered.
Everything you want in a documentary, from archived video footage, interviews, home video, photography, I was just amazed that so much of this was found. Also, its important to mention that Harry Nilsson, as much as he was respected, he was also a man with his own personal demons and there are people he did hurt along the way. You just don’t get these people participating in a documentary but they did. In this case, former producers who produced hits for Harry were just dropped and would never see Harry again. You can tell by the look in their face and their eyes, it was a hard thing for them to discuss. You want natural emotions and you see it in their eyes and face, there is no BS.
When Micky Dolenz talked about receiving a Harry call or talking about how Harry disliked the song “Without You” because he didn’t write it and then you Richard Perry backing Dolenz comments up. That was very sharp pacing and editing and making sure things were substantiated in the documentary. And of course, the friendship between Nilsson and members of the Beatles. This had a major impact on Nilsson’s life, especially his friendship with John Lennon. And of course, we have archived video and footage of him and Lennon together, but it’s great to have Yoko Ono backing things up about their friendship but then on the opposite end, friends of Nilsson talking about how Nilsson’s friendship of Lennon changed him for the worst.
In fact, one of those moments was when Nilsson and John Lennon interrupted The Smothers Brothers comedy performance and resulted in a major brawl. Can anyone substantiate what took place? Scheinfeld not only got the Smothers Brothers to confirm the story and talk about it, we also get John Lennon’s ex-girlfriend May Pang also corroborating the story and going into further detail of what took place on Nilsson and Lennon’s end.
This was smart documentary making and everything you can think of was covered in “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?”.
I have read various reviews for those who have watched the documentary in a screening and some have had criticized the nearly 2-hour documentary of not focusing too much on the music and the hits during the “Nilsson Schmilsson”era. Well, this is what I love about this documentary on DVD because there is a lot more footage, especially on the music that is included in the special features. There was just no way this documentary was going to be 3 hours long, so it’s good to know that the musical portions, deleted and extended material are included in this DVD.
Overall, “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?” is a fantastic music documentary! A magnificent tribute to Harry Nilsson and even for those, like myself, who were familiar with the music but not the man behind the music, you’ll love this documentary.
Easily deserving of five stars! Highly recommended!
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