To mark the late Frank Sinatra’s centennial birthday this year, HBO presents a detailed look at the music legend’s prolific life in “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,” a two-part, four-hour documentary featuring never-before-seen footage, home movies and candid details of Sinatra’s private life provided by the man himself. Friends, family and admirers of Ol’ Blue Eyes stepped out Tuesday night at the Time Warner Center in New York for the buzzy film’s premiere.
“My dad would have been very proud of this film,” Tina Sinatra, Sinatra’s 66-year-old youngest child, told Variety prior to the screening. “It’s the real and honest look at his life. It shows him as a real person. He never made excuses. He didn’t do things perfectly well every time. He was his own man, and he was, most of the time, always generous. He did things his way.”
To thoroughly capture the essence of the man considered to be one the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, director Alex Gibney (“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”) and executive producer Frank Marshall (“Back to the Future”) used footage from Sinatra’s 1971 retirement concert at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre as a centerpiece around which to narrate his life.
The filmmakers also weaved in interviews by journalists (like Walter Cronkite) and commentary by his first wife (Nancy Barbato Sinatra); his children (Nancy Jr., Frank Jr. and Tina); and his co-stars (Gene Kelly and Sammy Davis Jr.) to provide candid details about the crooner and to “feel like you’re living the events with him and not looking back at them,” explained Gibney. The doc highlights his early years growing up in Hoboken, N.J.; his rise as a singer; his high-profile love affairs with Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall and Mia Farrow; and his life as a father.
“I miss most of all his humor and his home phone calls every day during dinnertime,” Tina recalled about her dad, who passed in 1998 at the age of 82. “He would call every day, and if you had misbehaved, mother (would) had told him, and you’d run to get out of earshot. He’d call during dinnertime or when we were doing homework. He would call every day.”
Tina also fondly remembers her father’s famous romances, especially his two-year marriage to Mia Farrow. “We still speak to each other all the time,” she said of her former stepmother. “I was in her high school. She was a year or so ahead of me. I don’t know what they were thinking when they got married, but they both knew right away it was not a good thing. They remained friends until the end of his days.”
As for Farrow making the infamous comment that her son Ronan may actually be Sinatra’s son, Tina says it was a joke. “She was thumbing her nose at the press just to stir things up. I think she then had a misgiving when she realized my mother might not think it was so funny, but she did,” said Tina. “It was just silly on her part and it was funny. You have to know Mia to understand the humor behind it. We did laugh it off. I mean he (doesn’t) look like anybody, except he looks like Mia’s late brother.”
With the documentary airing in two parts on Sunday, April 5, and Monday, April 6, on HBO, Gibney, who recently shook things up for Scientology, hopes a new generation will discover Sinatra. Even he admits to having been unaware of who the man really was.
“I learned that he was a fantastic storyteller in song,” said Gibney. “It was interesting to find out that he had learned from trombone player Tommy Dorsey on how to breathe in a certain way so that he didn’t have to pause in a song. Sinatra would only take a breath when the song demanded it because of the phrase. That’s what made him great. It’s those little technical details and his powerful sense of narrative that make him the ultimate singer and storyteller.”
Marshall, who met the performer backstage at one of his shows in Las Vegas, had been a big fan of the singer ever since his father introduced him to the soulful music as a kid. Marshall took a brief break from working on the Vancouver set of Steven Spielberg’s bigscreen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book “The BFG” just to attend the premiere. Production began two weeks ago, and he said filming the movie has been a milestone experience for Spielberg.
“Shooting ‘BFG’ is kind of a new thing for Steven. The way we are making this movie is a little different than other films Steven is used to, because there is a combination of live actors and motion capture actors,” said Marshall. “It’s a different way to tell the story, so he’s really excited. We’ve got a giant played by Mark Rylance and a little girl in the same scene. We are doing amazing work with them so they can actually interact with each other. The things we have planned are incredible.”
Following the well-received screening, guests gathered at the posh Porter House New York restaurant for a seated, three-course dinner. The VIP guests — including Chris Noth from “The Good Wife,” Regis Philbin and wife Joy, director Brett Ratner and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band member Steve Van Zandt — enjoyed a meal of mozzarella and tomato salad, steak filet and Neapolitan ice cream.
(Pictured: Tina Sinatra, director and executive producer Alex Gibney, Kary Antholis, executive producer Frank Marshall and Sharon Hall at the “Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All” New York screening at Time Warner Center)