“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” Don Was’ new documentary about Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys founder and leader, captures magnificently the essence of the musician’s genius and eccentricity. Docu glosses over important issues of Wilson’s life and career, but the observations it does make are so illuminating that they almost compensate for the omissions, resulting in a brilliant docu. Many people will want to see this highly entertaining work in movie theaters, before it lands on PBS, cable and other venues.
Noted musician and record producer Was makes a respectable feature debut — his love for Wilson and knowledge of the music world show throughout the film. Helmer shrewdly avoids a conventional biographical approach, offering instead a selective view of the man through interviews with his family, colleagues, and music experts.
Wilson’s proud mother observes that he was talented even as a 1-year-old kid and a happy child. But Wilson explains that “because my dad was so cruel to me, I turned to music.” Amazingly, he was not a schooled musician and never took a lesson in his life.
Wilson talks candidly about his drinking and drug abuse, how he wrote a number of songs under the influence of marijuana. The inspiration for “Good Vibrations,” described as “the ‘Gone With the Wind’ of music” and the most expensive record made, derived from a comment from Wilson’s mother about a dog that was barking “because it picked vibrations.”
Unlike most films about artists, this one succeeds in deciphering in accessible terms what was innovative about Wilson’s compositions. A music professor illustrates how Wilson changed the conventions and sound of pop music, putting together “strange” instruments and materials. “Surfing,” the Beach Boys 1961 album, came out of nowhere; even the Beatles recognized there was something different and sophisticated about their music.
Despite his turbulent past, Wilson emerges as a naive, childlike man (the way his former wife describes him) whose “bizarre innocence” used to frighten people. Indeed, docu shows that, contrary to popular notions, there are second — and even third — chapters in American lives. An upbeat, hopeful mood informs the film, specifically in the sequences with Wilson’s daughters.
For years, the two daughters resented that he wasn’t a “normal” father, but gradually anger changed into sadness. Determined to work on their relationship with dad, they fondly recall how last year they celebrated the first Father’s Day in 26 years. “Igot into the mood of being a family man,” says Wilson in characteristic humor, emphasizing the joy at discovering normalcy.
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (named after a Beach Boys song) contains a number of new recordings of Wilson’s old songs. There is a wonderful, first-time ever singing of Wilson with his mom and younger brother Carl.
Regrettably, docu glides over Wilson’s alleged mental illness, bitter family disputes and legal battles with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love. The most glaring omission is his ambivalence toward the band during the height of their popularity and afterwards. Excepting a few out-of-synch sequences, tech credits and black & white lensing are impressive.
Docu, which could have been longer and deeper, may not disclose everything you want to know about Wilson the man or artist, but it makes you want to revisit the Beach Boys — hoping that, as rumored, a new album will soon be in the works.