Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

[Lorber Films]


Harry Nilsson was a one-of-a-kind character: an immensely talented songwriter whose biggest hits were covers; an ebullient soul fueled by a terror of abandonment; an ambitious striver who seemed determined to wreck his career; a man with the voice of an angel and a devilish sense of humor; a lover of life who often appeared to have a death wish; a onetime multimillionaire who died bankrupt at age 53. So it’s a little odd that writer and director John Scheinfeld’s biographical documentary is so determinedly conventional—the story is told chronologically, with montages of photos broken up with talking heads and snippets of song.

That said, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? goes about its business in an efficient and entertaining manner. Family members and friends like Yoko Ono, Robin Williams and Randy Newman offer commentary as we learn of Nilsson’s troubled early life, charmed rise to the top of the pop world and deep, alcohol-soaked friendships with Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Nilsson seemed destined to join his pals in the upper ranks of musical stardom, but his refusal to aim for commercial success and his self-destructive penchant for drugs and drink kept him from breaking out of cult status. By the end of the film Nilsson remains as inscrutable a character as ever, but Who Is Harry Nilsson makes a worthwhile attempt at sorting out his contradictions and complexities. Extras include several deleted scenes that could have easily made the cut.  – CN

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