Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, guest spots from Linda Ronstadt,  Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Petty, Graham Nash, David Crosby
Director:  Don Was
Audio:  Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1, Color, B & W
Studio:  Artisan
Features:  None
Length: 172 minutes total
Release date:  December 17, 2002

“I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You’ll never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you…”

Film ***

Who is the best-selling American rock band ever?  The Eagles?  Not in overall sales.  Chicago?  Despite almost thirty albums, they only place second.  Even though the days of top forty singles for the Beach Boys are long gone, they are still the best-selling American rock band ever.  Their unmatched harmonies and innovative songs that capture the best of young Americana in the early 1960's guarantee their eternal popularity, especially in winter months when we all dream of an endless summer, when the biggest decision we had to make was which girl to ask out and how we could save up for that car to drive her in. 

The undisputed genius of the band, one of the few undisputed American pop Einsteins, was Brian Wilson.  His collaborations with Mike Love (who looks like such a dork in this footage, but sounds good) and others all bear his unmistakable imprint of soaring harmonies, and solid rock rhythms.

The first program begins with the Beach Boys in the 1970s, all looking haggard and old, with unflattering beards, and Brian does not even bother to get out of bed to do the interview.  Yet their performances speak for themselves.  Their rise to fame is described briefly, their overbearing father getting them a contract with Capitol records and they rocketed to the top of the charts.  With the Beatles, they completed the two-fisted domination of Capitol Records in the 1960s.  But it was all too good to be true.  Like many other composers such as John Lennon, Brian Wilson never quite found the peace and happiness in life that his songs gave to others.  After suffering a nervous breakdown on the road, he quit touring but continued to produce albums, with the other boys adding their voices later.  This culminated in the masterpiece Pet Sounds, praised by Phil Spector as the best album he had ever heard.  But as Brian sank into depression and drug use, his music became strange to the point of incomprehensible.  It could be argued that the Beatles actually grew somewhat during their drug period, the biggest result being Paul McCartney assuming the reins.  But there was no one to take the reins when Brian went down.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Which was the only Beach Boy who actually learned how to surf?  Only one!

These programs are a real eye-opener though, seeing the Beach Boys cover other bands' songs such as “Okie from Muskogie” and even some anti-war tunes!  They actually sound pretty good, and did in fact record several good albums after Brian Wilson left, but clearly the endless summer was only an illusion.  The turning point of pop in the 1960s was the Monterey Pop Festival, and ironically the Beach Boys were supposed to headline, but Brian backed out at the last minute, leaving Jimi Hendrix to change the history of music forever.  The Beach Boys suddenly realized that music had passed them by, much as Sgt. Pepper's eclipsed Pet Sounds and Smile. 

The second documentary, shot mostly in black and white, has many insights about the evolution of the music, such as the synthesis of Brian's Freshmen harmonies and Carl's love of Chuck Berry into their unique sound.  Beyond the sweet but silly reminisces of Brian's family, there are many legends such as David Crosby, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, and Graham Nash weigh in on the importance of this music, such as a master harmonizer like Crosby admitting that he would never be able to do harmonies such as “In My Room”.  Other interesting facts emerge here such as the connection between the JFK assassination and “Warmth of the Sun”.  I won't go into that here; you will have to watch this to find out!

The deepness and genuine emotion of these songs receive full testimony in this second documentary.  Not only was Brian Wilson a great genius, he was genuine.  Though he was deaf in one ear, tormented by a difficult relationship with his father, and eventually slipped into schizophrenia, the voices he heard in his heard first were those of his brothers and his own soaring soprano, for which he was tormented as a young boy.  He is one of the very few composers to take 50s rock and ballads and do new things in this familiar language.  He nearly saved American rock from the British invasion itself.  But for most of the 1960s, rock belonged to the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and the blues-rockers such as Hendrix and Cream.  Future American rock bands still bore their influence, such as the Eagles soaring harmonies (maybe the only band to compare to the Beach Boys) and Chicago recorded the song “Wishing You Were Here” with the Beach Boys and even toured with them many times.

Plenty of footage of Brian recording anew in recent years makes this an important piece of music film.  Few have slipped as far as Brian Wilson and then come back to record new version of old songs and finish many tunes he did not finish in the 1960s. 

Video **

Some black and white, some color performances.

Audio **

Nothing spectacular, a hodge-podge of stereo and mono recordings but many rare performances show that they were a good live band.  It is a tragedy of music that digital sound did not exist in those days. 

Features (zero stars)

None, but so what? 


Filled with rare footage, revealing interviews, and insights into their music, this should be required viewing for any musician or serious fan of rock music. 


According to Brian Wilson's interview in the first program, only the band's sex symbol and also the first to perish--Dennis Wilson-- learned how to surf.