Artisan Home Entertainment presents
The Beach Boys: An American Band / Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (1985/1995)
"They say I got brains, but they ain't doing me no good...."- Brian Wilson/Tony Asher
Stars: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston
Other Stars: Tom Petty, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Linda Ronstadt, Thurston Moore, Van Dyke Parks, Tony Asher, Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson, John Cale, Danny Hutton, Marilyn Wilson, Thurston Moore, Audree Wilson, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Melinda Wilson
Director: Malcolm Leo/Don Was
MPAA Rating: PG-13Run Time: 02h:51m:00s
Release Date: 2003-01-07
DVD ReviewThere's a pivotal moment in George Lucas' American Graffitti when a couple cruising the streets on a late summer night get confrontational over The Beach Boys song, Surfin' Safari, as it blares from the car radio. While the young adolescent girl in the passenger seat thinks it's "boss" (or putting it in more modern terms, cool), the older boy behind the wheel is not having any of it. Weaned on the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee and The Crickets, "Rock and roll's been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died," in his words.
Had Paul LeMat's character from that classic film survived into the mid-1960s, I wonder if he would have changed his tune on the instigators of what he labeled "that surfin' s***." If any group brought America out of its post "day the music died" musical slumber while helping rock reclaim the youthful vigor and passion of its early age, it was The Beach Boys.
Overcoming initial pigeonholing as a surf combo in the vein of The Ventures, they expanded upon the three chord rock of early singles, as group leader and musical wunderkind Brian Wilson began incorporating diverse influences into their sound. Blending the complex harmonies of '50s vocal groups (including The Four Freshmen), classical progressions that recalled masters like Beethoven and the no-nonsense production techniques of Phil Spector, the contrasting mix worked beyond anyone's wildest expectations.
One masterpiece after another followed: I Get Around, Don't Worry Baby, California Girls, Wouldn't It Be Nice, God Only Knows and Good Vibrations to name but a few. Five years after signing with Capitol Records in 1962, The Beach Boys amassed twenty-one top 40 hits, (with thirteen top tens and three #1 hits among them), gained the respect of their peers and even inspired their biggest rivals (and mutual admirers), The Beatles. In fact, Paul McCartney has gone on record as stating that if not for Pet Sounds (the classic Wilson-conceived album ), Sgt. Pepper may not have come into being.
In the last 15 years, many high profile documentaries have attempted to chronicle the musically rich and emotionally charged history of this band, and Artisan has scored a major coup by combining two of the best onto one indispensable disc: The Beach Boys: An American Band and Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.
The former is a 1985 effort directed by noted musical documentarian Malcolm Leo who was the guiding force behind This is Elvis, a critically acclaimed look at the king of rock and roll. Like that film, The Beach Boys: An American Band is a treasure trove of vintage television appearances, rare and never before seen archival footage, concert clips and home movies. Tied together by a string of mostly unused interviews from a 1976 NBC television special (produced by Lorne Michaels) with newer recollections recorded nine years later, the film takes us through virtually all of the defining moments of the legendary band: humble beginnings in Hawthorne, California, their initial rise to stardom; Brian Wilson's nervous breakdown at the peak of their fame, Wilson's eventual retreat from touring, his re-invention as a production genius during the Pet Sounds sessions, his descent into mental madness following his taxing attempt to follow it up (the unreleased Smile album); the group's surprise late-1960s comeback in England and their even more surprising resurgence stateside, spurred on by a 70s-era repackage of classic hits.
In an era when sensationalism overshadows art in musical biographies such as this (Behind the Music, for example), it's nice to revisit a period in documentary filmmaking when the music mattered most. Although some may quibble at the lack of a juicy tabloid-fueled approach (and at times, The Beach Boys' private lives got more press than their art in the 1970s and '80s), Leo shows admirable restraint by not exploiting such instances and letting songs and images tell the story.
Such lows are kept to a minimum as the film's hit-filled soundtrack provides one musical high point after another. Among the notables: an aching Surfer Girl and driving Surfin' USA from the legendary concert film The T.A.M.I. Show in 1965, proving what an underrated live unit they were even in their early days; a note-perfect In My Room (where the boys barely suppress smirks at having to perform in a library-type setting); a funky Good Vibrations on a latter-day Ed Sullivan Show (awash in cheesy primitive visual effects) and a rousing Heroes and Villains from a 1971 concert that led the way to their Endless Summer renaissance mid-decade.
At the crest of their comeback, Brian Wilson slowly re-emerged from his battle with mental illness, performing occasionally with the group. Additionally, he began writing/recording new material at a pace some thought would never be possible again, given his previous condition. Although the material wasn't as innovative as the glory days, its pop savvy was undeniable, resulting in fresh hits like Good Timin' and Getcha Back, which ushered the group into its third decade.
It was during this period that Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times was conceived. Much more intimate and personal than The Beach Boys: An American Band, this 69-minute profile takes us deep into Brian's psyche and what inspired his greatest compositions. Although the chemical indulgences of his youth and lingering effects of past emotional scars have dimmed his mental capabilities somewhat, Wilson's indomitable spirit and passion for his craft never fails him when behind the keyboard.
This renewed zeal is reflected in all-new studio performances of Beach Boys classics, filmed by stalwart record producer Don Was (who also directed the film). Supported by a first class group of L.A. session players, including drummer Jim Keltner and former Linda Ronstadt guitarist Waddy Wachtel, Wilson's renditions of beloved Beach Boys classics like The Warmth of the Sun and Caroline, No gain new emotional weight via the passage of time. Another highlight is a funky take on Do it Again, with formerly estranged daughters Carnie and Wendy Wilson providing back-up vocals. To witness a mending of the fences via this musical collaboration is nothing short of heartwarming, especially their reactions to their father bopping in time to the music.
Another plus in the film's favor are insightful, thoughtful interviews with fellow peers such as Velvet Underground multi-instrumentalist John Cale, vocalist Danny Hutton from Three Dog Night, David Crosby, Graham Nash and even Wilson's first wife, Marilyn. Unlike many rock documentaries where talking heads serve no purpose other than marquee value, these well chosen interviewees "get" Wilson, with an excellent example coming courtesy of Cale, who brilliantly sums up the veteran composer's tunesmith mastery: "There was something profound in every lyric [Brian] wrote, [which] can be a very heavy burden for a songwriter."
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||yes|
Image Transfer Review: As for The Beach Boys: An American Band, it's evident from the get go that the video master used for VHS and laser disc production was utilized, which results in only a miniscule step up in visual improvement from past releases. But given the varied source material (ranging from grainy home movies to rough archival footage), I don't think even a full-fledged re-mastering would have made a big difference anyway. That aside, it's actually quite a good looking transfer overall, especially during well preserved moments like the aforementioned Good Vibrations performance from the Ed Sullivan Show vaults.
Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times fares better in the transfer department given it's recent vintage. Photographed in good old-fashioned black & white (which usually transfers well in the right hands), quality is a little on the grainy side, but very natural looking and film-like.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Although I was a little bummed about both films not receiving full fledged 5.1 re-dos (particularly since the band's catalog has undergone such an impressive spit-and-polish routine on compact disc for the past several years), audio is so well recorded on both films via their Dolby Surround mixes, you'll be so busy "catching a wave" of musical magic to notice.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 46 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:43m:00s
Extras Review: Since this dual layer disc is filled up to capacity with the two films, significant extras might have compromised quality. Yet, "wouldn't it be nice" to have had at least one commentary track (like noted Beach Boys historian/author, David Leaf)?
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAs Mike Love might say, "save [your] pennies and save [your] dimes." Hands down, the first "must own" musical DVD of 2003. Giddyup, kiddies.
Jeff Rosado 2003-01-05