Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and The Story of Smile

Film
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Time Out says

Until last year’s triumphant performance, The Beach Boys’ lost album ‘Smile’ had become a mythic document, a holy grail of Americana. ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ attempts to delve beyond the spliff-addled mythology to deliver a meticulously researched history of Brian Wilson’s ‘teenage symphony to God’, his sonic bicycle journey from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii, from Stephen Foster to Phil Spector.

Writer and director David Leaf employs the portentous tone of those clunky History Channel documentaries, but even that can’t ruin a story this good. The first half is a cut-and-clip documentary on the original 1967 sessions, featuring pop heavyweights (George Martin, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb) and eye-witnesses (including friends and session musicians). There’s some wonderful footage – including a solo version of ‘Surf’s Up’ from Leonard Bernstein’s 1967 CBS TV report – and witnesses are happy to scotch some myths (most agree that Brian’s breakdown had nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with years of bullying and peer pressure).

More compelling is the second half, a video diary of the project’s live rebirth last year, following Wilson and bandleader Darian Sahanaja as they painstakingly glue together ‘Smile’ from the recorded fragments. Wilson looks like a frightened child throughout, bouncing between puppy-dog enthusiasm and weary depression, and seems extraordinarily candid talking to the director. It gives the narrative a real impetus – by the end you’ll be weeping alongside Van Dyke Parks as they reach the Royal Festival Hall.

Details

Release details

Rated:
U
Release date:
Friday December 10 2004
Duration:
110 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
David Leaf