'Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road,' June 14, PBS
NEW YORK (CNS) -- A fresh approach, energetic direction and lively commentary propel the documentary "Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road."
Following its 2021 premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and a theatrical release last fall, the profile premieres on PBS Tuesday, June 14, 9-10:30 p.m. EDT -- six days prior to the famed songwriter's 80th birthday.
Broadcast times for this "American Masters" presentation may vary, however. So viewers should consult their local listings.
Filmmaker Brent Wilson, no relation to his subject, employs an unusual but welcome conceit to unfold the narrative of the brilliant yet troubled musician's more than six decade-long career. Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine, a trusted friend of the interview-shy singer, drives him around the Los Angeles area, discussing the places that shaped him, both as a man and an artist.
The suburban community of Hawthorne -- where Wilson grew up with his deceased younger brothers and Beach Boys bandmates, Dennis and Carl -- is the first stop. Via an audiotape, Dennis recalls that, when the siblings "were singing harmony together, my father would fall down crying with joy."
Dad Murry, however, who also served as the quintet's fist manager, hectored and insulted the band -- whose original lineup also included the Wilsons' cousin, Mike Love, and their friend, Al Jardine -- until they fired him in 1964. Fifty years after his death, he nonetheless remains a formidable and haunting presence in his son's life.
Accusations of abuse have been leveled at Murry, who is heard in an archival recording avowing that he felt it was "my duty as a father to give you the security a punishment gives." Wilson's reaction to these words is one of palpable pain and anguish.
The professional split with his father liberated Wilson to go in another direction artistically. Released in 1966, the orchestrally ambitious album "Pet Sounds" is considered Wilson’s masterpiece.
Initially -- as the documentarians note -- "Pet Sounds" received a lukewarm reception both commercially and critically. Yet it now ranks number two on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Unfortunately, Wilson's attempts to elevate himself artistically during this period coincided with the onset of his well-documented mental health issues and habitual substance abuse. At 21, Wilson began to experience "auditory hallucinations of cruel and degrading things." The voices in the tunesmith's head persist today.
These challenging aspects of Wilson's background make this biography of him inappropriate for youngsters. Despite some salty language, however, at least some parents may consider the film sufficiently enlightening to be acceptable for mature adolescents.
Along with the clever idea of staging his retrospective as a road trip, director and co-writer Wilson -- who collaborated on the script with Jason Fine and Kevin Klauber -- helps viewers appreciate his namesake's restless creativity. Thus, speaking of the Beach Boy's work as a producer, Wallflowers' front man Jakob Dylan observes that he "used the studio as an instrument."
The movie also is a star-studded affair with ex-altar boy Bruce Springsteen and Elton John as well as Nick Jonas and conductor Gustavo Dudamel all putting in an appearance. Their shared affection and admiration for Wilson are shiningly evident.
But it's Wilson himself who provides the ultimate reason to enjoy this look back at his life. Though he appears more youthful than his years, his struggles with mental illness are painfully apparent. Still, Wilson's sweet, childlike nature will undoubtedly endear him to viewers. His tale of talent and torment makes for a memorable journey.
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Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.