Director/Writer: Malcolm Leo
Editor: David Fairfield
Audio Research: Ron Furmanek
Starring: (amongst others) The Beach Boys (as themselves)
A biography of the American rock band The Beach Boys, with interviews, concert footage and clips from movies and television shows they appeared in.
Sample IMDB review:
Above all, this movie is not to be viewed as a factual documentary. Most of the band’s conflicts and troubles are only addressed shortly if they are addressed at all and the movie tries to paint a picture of endless harmony between all the band members, which wasn’t there for most of the time. It’s like watching a propaganda movie from a time of war, where most facts have been spun around. In hindsight, if you look at such movies and you know how things really went down, it’s still very intriguing to see how they have been presented at the time. That’s the main fascination of “The Beach Boys: An American band”.
00:00 to 00:05 (of 01:44)
(Opens with mid-section of the 1971 Surf’s Up playing over titles)
It’s June the 20th 1976, and Brian Wilson’s birthday:
At his Bel Air house, Brian’s family and friends – including Paul and Linda McCartney – join Brian for a 34th birthday party, where he is presented wih a chocolate cake adorned with the message ’34 Big Ones’. The event and interviews conducted at the party…feature in The Beach Boys TV Special, aired by NBC on August 5th 1976. Footage from this special will be regularly used in future Beach Boys retrospective documentaries, including the 1984 documentary The Beach Boys: An American Band, and the 1998 Delilah Films presentation Endless Harmony.
In the week prior to the screening of the TV special, several FM radio stations across American have run a commercial in which The Beach Boys sing ‘Drink Dr Pepper’ and remind listeners about the forthcoming television show.
The cameraman picks out Audree Wilson, ‘The Beach Boys Mom’
plus individual band members: Dennis
Mike, being fed
and then cuts in Brian
in bed, and despite getting out of bed for his own birthday party.
Brian also receives this T shirt as a birthday present:
Audree Wilson: (about Brian) He’s introverted. He’s a paradox!
Carl: Brian is an incredible being – very creative…
Brian: I’ve been called a genius by a number of people, I think basically because I had an ability to put harmonics together in rock and roll
(cut to Surfin’ USA)
haggerties and swamies
san onofre and sunset
redondo beach L A
all over la jolla
at wa’imea bay
everybody’s gone surfin’
surfin’ U S A
00:44 to 01:00
Brian Wilson: Mike Love and I have collaborated a number of times. We wrote Good Vibrations together.
(pic of Mike love onstage is flashed up, then a rough live version of Good Vibrations is heard, out of synch with the mismatched performance footage, 30secs)
Brian: That took a long time. That song started with one little riff, and we waited a month and then started another section, started recording individual sections, and then at the end we spliced all these separate sections together. It was a real producton, the biggest production of our life.
(TOTP clip of Good Vibrations, the one where they’re in white suits and it has all that weird echo at the end, 3mins 30secs)
Brian: (on voiceover, separate sections from different interviews spliced together, as they are throughout this film) I’ve written with a number of different people (edit) I collaborate with Mike Love mostly (another pic of Mike Love onstage), and sometimes Carl (edit)
Brian: But I wrote with Van Dyke Parks more than anyone else, he’s my favourite collaborator (edit) initially we wanted to do an album called Smile, but we don’t work as much any more.
Van Dyke Parks: Well I wrote lyrics for Brian Wilson – most of them, when an album was done called Pet Sounds, which readied us for the next record which, ah…still is an explained event, I don’t understand it – it was just after the Beach Boys were in litigation with Capitol Records.
(Surf’s Up from Inside Pop, 2mins 10secs)
columnated ruins domino
a children’s song
Van Dyke Parks: (loudly on voiceover) SURF’S UP. WAS THE FIRST SONG THAT BRIAN AND I WROTE. FOR THE SMILE ALBUM.
Van Dyke Parks: I wasn’t close enough to the other guys. I was in a position of defending my lyrics, that went from ‘ding woody pearl hang-ten’ – I mean, I didn’t know that language – to, ah, like, ‘columnated ruins domino’ – Mike Love said to me one day, ‘explain this: over and over the crow cries, uncover the cornfield?’ – and it was an American Gothic trip that Brian and I were working on – I said ‘I don’t know what these lyrics are all about, they’re not important, throw ’em away’.
Van Dyke Parks: And so they did.
Brian: When we first began Smile I had crazy ideas, I was smoking hashish, and we were laying on the floor singing, from laying on the floor we put the microphones down on our heads, doing crazy things, and we got into a REALLY strange bag.
(Bicycle Rider/Do You Like Worms video clip, 33 seconds)
Brian: We were recording Smile, and came across a tape of a song called Fire – I was getting pretty far out by then – well it so happened that a building burned down the same day we were doing that, down the street from the studio. I had the musicians wearing fire helmets,
Brian: I had a guy bring in a bucket of burning wood to smell of smoke in the studio – I mean, I was CRAZY!
(Mrs O’Leary’s Cow plays, with edited and spliced voiceovers, 1min 33secs)
Brian: I began to think we started that fire somehow, mystically…I was able to get a hold of all these drugs, and they messed me up, messed my mind up
Brian: I took the LSD and that just totally tore my head off
(Mrs O’Leary’s Cow drumbreak)
Brian: (from a different interview) Acid was like everything I could ever be, or would ever be I came to grips with –
Brian: – you just come to grips with what you are, what you can do and what you can’t do, and you learn to face it.
Carl: The Smile album itself was creating an uncomfortable situation. It just didn’t seem proper at the time.
Brian: (from yet another interview) Time can be spent in the studio to the point where you get so next to it, you don’t know where you are with it, you decide to just chuck it for a while.
(Mrs O’Leary’s Cow ends. Fade to black.)
(Home-movie footage of The Beach Boys in Hawaii follows, soundtracked by a bad re-edit of I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times)
Carl: Brian ran into all kinds of problems on Smile, he just couldn’t find the right direction to finish it, and then after all that hard work the album was abandoned. Brian withdrew from public life completely. We were supposed to headline the Monterey Pop Festival, but at the last minute Brian backed out. Monterey was a turning point in rock and roll, overnight the whole scene changed, and we felt as if we’d been passed by.
(footage of hippies freaking out, soundtrack is Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun. Cut to Hendrix at Monterey setting fire to his guitar, as the soundtrack intones SURF MUSIC IS DEAD! ‘you’ll never hear surf music again’.)
(Hendrix is then cut off by the drumbeat of Do It Again)
suntanned bodies and
waves of sunshine the
california girls and a
warmed up weather
let’s get together and
do it again
Carl: The image of the Beach Boys was out of synch with the time – it was real rough on the group. Brian wasn’t around to help, and if we were going to survive, we had to do it alone.
(Time To Get Alone, footage shot of the band in Brian’s home studio, vocals mimed to the re-recording of the Redwood backing track)
Bruce: You know, that song pretty much said it all – at one point in the late 60s, The Beach Boys could only draw 200 people to a gig in New York. But you LEARN from the hard times – we couldn’t turn to Brian any more, so we had to stick together, and rely on ourselves. We made some pretty good music during that period, but nothing happened.
(Bruce goes on about touring in Eastern Europe etc. The Czechs say ‘thank you for the gift of your music’.)
In the mid-80s, this video was a fantastic, if baffling resource – the Smile fragments included here (Do You Like Worms‘ vocal chant, the Inside Pop Surf’s Up and Fire itself) enhanced many cassette compilations, before better (and complete) tracks became accessible. The cut-and-paste voiceovers can detract (there are only so many times one can stand to hear Van Dyke shout ‘SURF’S UP. WAS THE FIRST SONG THAT BRIAN AND I WROTE. FOR THE SMILE ALBUM.’ Especially when you find that it wasn’t), but scratch away at it, and, underneath the narration, here was some genuine Smile music.
But this film was never intended as a ‘resource’ – quite the opposite. Apart from Surf’s Up, which The Beach Boys co-opted as their own with their 1971 version, it’s designed to scare people away from Smile. And, with Mrs O’Leary’s Cow‘s commentary, it’s laid on real thick.
It’s a little too effective – the Fire drum break coinciding with Brian’s ‘tore my head off’, plus the reversed firepole descent, gives the track a great audio-visual impact. This assumption – that ‘fans’ might steer clear of Smile after watching this – was a major error of judgement. As was making their tape archive available to the filmmakers…
And hearing Brian talk about the effects of acid also inadvertently illustrates how little The Boys ever really listened to Brian, cos they’re not listening here; Brian sounds more like the subject of Bill Hicks’ hypothetical TV news ‘positive drug story‘:
They always have the same LSD story. You’ve all seen it: “Today a young man on acid … thought he could fly … jumped out of a building … what a tragedy!” What a dick. He’s an idiot. If he thought he could fly, why didn’t he take off from the ground first? Check it out? You don’t see geese lined up to catch elevators to fly south; they fly from the fucking ground. He’s an idiot. He’s dead. Good! We lost a moron? Fucking celebrate. There’s one less moron in the world.
Wouldn’t you like to see a positive LSD story on the news? To base your decision on information rather than scare tactics and superstition? Perhaps? Wouldn’t that be interesting? Just for once?
“Today, a young man on acid realized that everything he could ever be, or would ever be he came to grips with – he just came to grips with what he was, what he can do and what he can’t do, and he learned to face it. Here’s Tom with the weather.”
I seem to have somehow misplaced my Vestron VHS copy of An American Band (lost, along with the 25 Years Celebration in Waikiki concert taped off the TV, 2 copies of Lewis Shiner’s novel Glimpses, and Black Noise, Conrad Turner’s long out-of-print study of spirituo-psychic acoustics); I used the DVD reissue for screengrabs, and noticed some scenes are missing in this version – including Brian’s face when given his I’M A FUCKIN’ GENIUS T shirt for his birthday (he looks heartbreakingly lost, and it’s his fucking party. And whose smart idea was it to give him such a thing in the first place?).
Brian gets a lot of blame here (choosing to back out of Monterey and ‘withdrawing from public life’, leaving the band to ‘do it alone’ etc.), and this sets the pattern for all future Beach Boys™ Smile narratives; the Endless Harmony film uses the same footage to make the same points fourteen years later – and despite major changes in a perception of Smile…