One of the best music documentaries to come along in ages, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? shows all who see it just what made Nilsson the genius enigma he was. Director John Scheinfeld interviewed a zillion people who knew him (too many famous ones to note!), worked with him, were vexed by him, or just knew of him and put together a bio that is at once sad, ecstatic, melancholy, bewitching, and downright hilarious.
Nilsson, of course, was the guy who turned on The Beatles with his amazing voice and bizarrely unique yet totally accessible songs. He first came to prominence with his rendition of "Everybody's Talkin'," which became the theme song for the movie Midnight Cowboy, though he had already written the hit song "One," which became one of Three Dog Night's biggest tunes. Harry later took Badfinger's "Without You" to number one on the charts, wrote the near-novelty tune "Coconut" ("you put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up") as well as the crazed rockers "Jump into the Fire" and "You're Breakin' My Heart" ("...you're tearin' it apart/so fuck you"). His album Nilsson Schmilsson, produced by Richard Perry, won all kinds of awards, and the next one, Son of Schmilsson, nearly equalled that effort. Confounding pretty much everyone, he next did an album of pop standards (long before Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart used that concept as a career crutch) called A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. By this time his crazy nightlife escapades were coming back to haunt him, and after some slightly sordid episodes with John Lennon and assorted rock 'n' rollers, his career slowly came to a halt. Eventually, he passed away at the young age of 53, partly forgotten and definitely missed.
This documentary, out on DVD courtesy of Lorber Films and Authorized Pictures, is so touching and vivid, you can't help but wish you had known the man. Liberal use of Nilsson's songs will make you want to snap up any disc you see with the bearded 'n' bereted one's likeness on it. Topping it off, the archival film of Nilsson with the London Philharmonic, the "video" for "Coconut" (with echoes of Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Three), and countless more extras make this a movie to savor.