I love The Beach Boys, to the extent that I would call them my favourite band ever. Normally I refer to them as my favourite American band, as people seem to understand this more, but trust me I can argue the value of The Beatles and their American counterparts for days. I’m comparing gold and platinum here, but no album by The Beatles or any other band has touched me, influenced me, comforted me as much as Pet Sounds. Then there is Smiley Smile, Sunflower, Wild Honey, Friends, Surf’s Up, Holland, yes I really love this band.
So, I am either the perfect audience for this new documentary or perhaps I could be its worst critic. But in the same way that I worried about Get Back, once I sat down with Brett Wilson’s documentary, I was filled with wonder and admiration, the same emotions that those special records ignite. Don’t think that you have to be an expert on the subject, I am sure that anyone who has heard three minutes of Brian’s work will find enough to enjoy here, the history is told as the film progresses through old footage and so you can catch up on The Beach Boys story, even if this is your first time in the pool.
Of course, those of us who acknowledge Brian as the greatest songwriter of all time have plenty to enjoy here too, sure we have seen most of the archival footage, but there are still things here I had never seen, such as a wonderful interview with Dennis, where he stops and in classic Dennis fashion compliments the interviewer on her dress. Adorable. But the main focus of this excellent film is the present. Brian is famously nervous around journalists (or people generally that he does not know), the classic shy genius, but here he is ‘interviewed’ by Rolling Stone’s Jason Fine, someone who has quizzed him many times and more importantly knows how to approach Brian. For example, even though he knew he was making this movie with someone he trusts, Brian is panicked when first interviewed and asks “What do you do when you get scared?” and this five seconds of fragility says more than many music documentaries can in their entire run time. Fine knows to just sit back and drive (most of the footage is the two in a car, less dull than that sounds) a play the songs that Brian wants to listen to, which is revelatory in its own way, especially as his go to is ‘It’s OK’. a song that would not even be a thought in my top 50 BB songs. But seeing how calm this makes him shows how different people respond to different songs.
The film is as much about (literal) brotherhood as about music, Brian beams as he talks proudly about Carl (whose song Long Promised Road gives the film its title, which has caused controversy amongst some fans, but makes sense when you realise how much this is about their relationship) and hearing him talk about the Dennis Wilson classic Forever and seeing it played over the Knebworth scene of Dennis running up and hugging his brother is just won, won, wonderful. Another classic moment is Fine learning that Brian has never heard Dennis’ 10/10 record Pacific Ocean Blue and so as soon as they get home, he puts it on and Brian closes his eyes and experiences something the rest of us have many many times. Fine, knowing Brian sometimes gets distracted easily says “Do you want to hear one more?” and Brian, fully there, shouts “I want to hear all of it!” and it is a beautiful moment.
There are talking heads here, but it is a heavyweight crew – Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Nick Jonas all bow at the altar, with Jonas especially knowing how it feels to be the ‘in control’ one of a brotherly band and there are also great interjections from Linda Perry and Don Was as well as brief but gold comments from Al Jardine.
The music is the best ever, the subject is a legend and the way it is put together is a touching look at age (Brian staying in the car when they drive to iconic locations because he is feeling too much, or holding Fine’s hand tightly as they visit the Surfin’ Safari), fame and your place in the world as one of the best artists to ever do it. When he is super excited to meet Wheel Of Fortune’s Vanna White at the diner and say’s “I’m Brian Wilson!”, you realise how little he understands his own importance and it is quite lovely, as is Long Promised Road as a whole.
Brian Wilson Long Promised Road is showing at selected cinemas now and is released on DVD/Blu on February 21