Documentary Releases: Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) (2010) - Reviewed

Courtesy of MVD Visual
Documentary filmmaker Jonathan Scheinfeld has been steadily tackling famed musicians, performers, actors and otherwise celebrity figures since the early 1990s with his Marx Brothers television doc, working all the way up to full theatrical documentary releases such as The U.S. vs. John Lennon.  

In the midst of pre-producing two upcoming documentary projects on Elvis Presley and the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, MVD Visual saw fit to re-release on blu-ray disc one of the documentary filmmaker’s (and the music world entire) most beloved and tragic subjects with the 2010 documentary film Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?).
By now you’ve probably heard the American musician and songwriter’s legendary Grammy winning track Everybody’s Talkin’ used to great dramatic and commercial effect in the X rated 1969 Oscar winner Midnight Cowboy.  You’ve heard his collaborations with Randy Newman for the children’s film The Point and contribution to the Popeye film soundtrack.  

Courtesy of MVD Visual

Considered by some to be ‘the American Beatle’, Nilsson was not only dubbed The Beatles’ favorite artist but he’s among the few to achieve mainstream success without embarking on tours or concert performances.  Moreover, the songwriter spent a lot of time around Ringo Starr and John Lennon and was so profoundly affected by Lennon’s death he briefly campaigned for gun control.
Nilsson, as you’ll find out in this documentary comprised of both archival and newly shot interviews with the artist himself and many who knew him personally including but not limited to Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, Paul Williams and the Smothers Brothers: Nilsson was a bit of a hellraiser.  

Prone to now infamous widely publicized alcoholic outbursts including one less than fondly remembered anecdote about how John Lennon and Nilsson heckled a Smothers Brothers concert, Nilsson represented another talented individual who fought for years with his own self-destructive demons brought on by fame and fortune. 
A melancholic, bittersweet portrait of an extraordinary singer-songwriter and the complex, often difficult journey from rags to riches to rags and back again, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is one of the great early 2000s rock documentaries.  Brought back into the limelight by MVD Visual on the cusp of the filmmaker’s return to chronicling legendary musical performers and artists, the film is a vivid treatment of the man’s life, legacy and how it all came down upon him in the end.  

Courtesy of MVD Visual

For longtime fans it can be a tearjerker to watch.  For the uninitiated it remains a fascinating exploration of the life and career of a great singer-songwriter that will most certainly make you want to look up his work after it finishes!

--Andrew Kotwicki