Saturday, September 12, 2015 10:47 AM
I just watched “Love and Mercy” (Director: Bill Pohlad, 2014) a Brian Wilson biopic, starring Paul Dano as his ‘past self’ and John Cusack as his ‘future self’. It was beautifully made—not just the photography, which was stunning—but Atticus Ross’s musical collages, made for the soundtrack using samples from the Beach Boys’ oeuvre, had a way of (very appropriately) making Brian Wilson’s inner nightmare sound like a cyclone of Beach Boys tunes. And John’s sister, Joan, isn’t fooling anyone with her uncredited cameo as one of the back-up dancers in the scene that recreates the “Fun, Fun, Fun” televised performance—she’s only in the background for an instant, but there’s no mistaking that toothy grin.
The Beach Boys were a guilty pleasure of my youth—much like Anthony Edwards’ character in “Downtown” (Director: Richard Benjamin, 1990) who meets with disgust from Forest Whitaker’s character when he claims the Beach Boys as his ‘jam’. (It gave me inordinate pleasure to see Whitaker’s character’s ‘family’ become Beach Boys fans by the end of the film.) While the politics and social agendas of other song-writers’ lyrics of the time made many dismiss the Beach Boys as insubstantial party music, Brian Wilson’s musical genius shone through for people like me who cared more for the sound than the ‘meaning’.
Also, there is great yearning and loneliness in songs like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” that was audible to those of us who shared Wilson’s suffering under draconian parenting or his isolation from less-sensitive, less-artistic family and friends. So often, people condescend to Beach Boys music as fluff—while overlooking Wilson’s subtle but profound reflections of domestic abuse and teen angst—perhaps it takes a ‘fellow traveler’ to hear that subtext.
“Love and Mercy”, like other Beach Boys biopics, made my skin crawl with the depiction of his horrendous father—and then added an even creepier note to Wilson’s life by depicting his twisted therapist. Both nightmare scenarios resonate strongly for me—too strongly to enjoy the story, in spite of the incredible cinematic skill brought to this effort. But I gloried in the deconstruction of their classic hits as we are shown recreations of the production process Brian Wilson goes through, experimenting and fine-tuning every instrument, every beat—to create the overall sound that we find so familiar. I especially enjoyed the evolution of the passage that combined Theremin and cello within “Good Vibrations”—so hard core, yet so outside the box of ‘rock’—an ineluctable sound if there ever was one.
I also wanted to cheer when Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) throws open her office door to confront the monster therapist (played with Oscar-worthy monstrosity by Paul Giamatti)—what a moment! Though difficult for me to bear, the movie was overall a tremendous experience—a true masterwork of film in many ways—and a welcome further examination of the life behind some of the twentieth century’s finest music.
Here’s a YouTube playlist that shows my ongoing struggle to mind-meld with Brian Wilson: