Everybody’s Talkin’ About Harry Nilsson

(Editor’s Note:  Our L.A. correspondent Randy Fuller covered a screening of the new documentary about Harry Nilsson – here is his report.)

John Scheinfeld’s documentary, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?), is currently getting a week’s screening in Los Angeles (through 9/23), with Portland (9/24 – 9/30) and San Francisco (10/1 – 10/7) to follow.   It’s a gentle and powerful film examining the life of the singer/songwriter through his music and the words of the people who were close to him. Those whose comments tell the story of Harry Nilsson include Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb, Mickey Dolenz, Robin Williams, Eric Idle, Al Kooper, Randy Newman and a host of others.

Director Scheinfeld said after the film, in an in-person Q&A at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater, that his biggest disappointment about the film is that he could not persuade Ringo Starr to sit for an interview.   Scheinfeld said “There are three people Ringo finds it very difficult to speak about: John Lennon, George Harrison and Harry Nilsson.”

The movie has just been released after a period of at least four years of being tinkered with. The final cut comes in just under two hours long, down from a previous version that clocked in at three hours.  Scheinfeld mentioned that all that lost footage didn’t stay on the cutting room floor.  “A DVD should be out by Christmas,” he said, “and there will be about another 90 minutes of footage – almost another whole movie – as part of the package.”

In the film, Parks and Dolenz have quite a few stories to tell about Nilsson’s legendary spiral into alcoholism and, ultimately, self destruction.  One of Nilsson’s cousins who was close to him also gets a lot of face time and adds a more personal touch to the account.

Comments from Nilsson’s friends about how they never knew how many days they’d be gone when they agreed to get together with him made the crowd laugh, while accounts of ruined relationships with two of his producers – Rick Jarrard and Richard Perry – were sadly touching.

The film offers accounts from many acquaintances of how Nilsson and John Lennon terrorized the Los Angeles nightclub scene for a while.  Tom and Dick Smothers talked about being heckled by the pair at the Troubadour.   It seemed at least Dick was still having trouble finding the memory humorous.

All the boozing and drugs most assuredly took their toll on Nilsson’s once-beautiful voice, but the crushing blow, according to songwriter Jimmy Webb, was a friendly contest between Lennon and Nilsson to see which one of them could record the longest, loudest scream.

Harry Nilsson and John Lennon, wrestling gaily

The movie chronicles Nilsson’s fascination with the Beatles and illustrates it with tales of how he would refer to himself as “the fifth Beatle.”  Audio of John Lennon pronouncing at a Beatles press conference, “Nilsson is our favorite group,” resulted in the singer being thrown into the Beatles circle of fame.  Those who knew him said sitting on that lofty perch changed Nilsson forever.

The film is highlighted by video from two BBC specials, a “Playboy After Dark” episode in which Nilsson performs, home movies and the 1974 film Son Of Dracula, which starred Nilsson and Ringo.

Speaking of the movies, it’s somewhat ironic that a man so known for his songwriting ability is probably best known for a song he didn’t write.  “Everybody’s Talkin’” is a Fred Neil composition which was used in the movie Midnight Cowboy.  Nilsson was one of several artists commissioned to create an actual title song for that film, but the filmmakers ultimately decided to stay with the Neil song.  Nilsson’s “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City” is the song he wrote for that project.

Scheinfeld spoke about the music in the documentary, which is all Harry Nilsson’s music.  “We went to Sony and had instrumental remixes made from a number of Nilsson’s recordings to use underneath some of the footage,” he said.  “We hope a soundtrack album will result from this project and that some of the remixed material can be on it.”

YouTube: Movie trailer for Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) official website

Pre-order the DVD at Amazon.com

YouTube: Harry Nilsson on “The Smothers Brothers Show”

7 Responses to “Everybody’s Talkin’ About Harry Nilsson”

  1. Mike Saccoliti Says:

    I saw this movie in NYC last week and can’t recomend it enough. The two hours went by very fast and I can’t wait for the DVD with the extras.

  2. You guys know about For The Love Of Harry blog? Its got all the video specials and music talked about in the movie. http://fortheloveofharry.blogspot.com/

  3. Dan: Yeah, that’s a great blog.

  4. Harry Nilsson’s music has brought back so many childhood memories for me most recently. I use to listen to his album Aerial Ballet over and over again when I was 9 years old. I fell out of touch with his music for years. I have recently reconnected with his music and have been listening for hours to all of his greatest hits. I loved the song titled “one” My all time favorite song ever sung by any artist is “without you” This song places me in a very spiritual place. He has to be one of the most talented song writers and singers of all time. My generation was not part of the computer era. It has been amazing to learn so much of his personal life and biography though the internet. I am so interested in watching the film they released this year “who is Harry Nilsson”

    My father loved his music and his favorite song titled, “everybody’s talking” My father played piano by ear. We use to have a love and hate relationship. However when I would come home to visit and would find myself sharing my passion of homemade cooking for the family in the country home of Pennsylvania my father would communicate to me through playing the piano. He use to always play “what will I do” I just learned that this is one of Harry’s pieces. It dawned on me that my father knew how much I loved Harry Nilssson’s music and enjoyed playing his music for me. I love Harry Nilsson as an artist. He was so diverse and blessed with such a true talent. I am so thankful for the music he has left behind for us all to enjoy!

  5. Why are photos of George Harrison And Harry Nilson together,hard to find?

  6. I’m a Beatles fan. I’d never heard of Harry. Then last month I watched the documentary Who’s Harry Nilsson and was blown away. So I watched it again and again and again,… And now I play his music, and play it and play it and play it… Who makes music of the same calibre as the Fab Four??? Harry, the fab 5th. I’m hooked.

  7. I recently watched the Harry Nilsson documentary and came away with a new appreciation of the man and his music. I am a Bealtes fan as well and always knew about the special bond he had with Lennon and the Beatles, but after listening more closely to his music and getting to know him through the documentary, I realized that he actually could have been a FIfth Beatle. Not only did he have a great deal in common with Lennon, he also had a similar songwriting style to Lennon-McCartney and would have fit like a glove in the group. It’s no wonder they admired him, and vice-versa. Great music lives on – thanks Harry

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