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David Leaf
Brian Wilson
Writing Credits:
Brian Wilson

This essential two-disc package features nearly four hours of material, including the Showtime documentary "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile", as well as an exclusive performance of "Smile" in its entirety. The collection also includes nearly two hours of bonus footage including never-before-seen interviews, performances, and recording session footage.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 5/24/2005

Disc One
• Score-Only Audio Track
• Trailer
• Interview Highlights
• “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” Live
• “After the Show” Featurette
Disc Two
Smile Live Performance
• Solo Piano Performances
• Photo Gallery
• “The Recording of Smile” Featurette
• Music Video


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 7, 2005)

Sad but true admission time: back in my late teens and early twenties, I thought of the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin as my three most hated bands. Why? Led Zep was on my list because they so strongly influenced the origins of heavy metal. Remember that this was in the second half of the Eighties when atrocious hair metal bands dominated, and I mistakenly blamed Zeppelin for that. As I noted in my review of their DVD, I changed my mind; Led Zep aren’t my favorite band, but I definitely enjoy and respect them now.

I hated the Dead simply because they sucked. All those long, pointless songs that sounded like the band made them up on the spot - I couldn’t take it. Unlike Led Zep, I never changed my mind on this one. I hated the Dead 20 years ago and I can’t stand them now.

The Beach Boys fall somewhere between those two. I disliked them largely because they seemed so pathetic. The Beach Boys toured as a lame nostalgia act and couldn’t possibly have appeared less relevant. This wasn’t a disdain of older music; at the time, most of my faves were Sixties acts. However, they at least tried to maintain a presence as something other than a blast from the past, whereas the Beach Boys coasted solely on their old material. Even when they put out a new hit, it was atrocious; 1988’s “Kokomo” was and remains a disgrace.

However, back then I didn’t understand the band’s history. I didn’t know much about the rise and fall of creative force Brian Wilson. I had some vague notion about Wilson as the nutbag who never left his house, got obese and played in a sandbox. I didn’t know that the band’s musical fortunes lived and died with Wilson. Without him in control - and in the right frame of mind - the band wouldn’t be able to develop.

So eventually I decided I didn’t really hate the Beach Boys. (Mike Love seems to be one of the business’s biggest jerks, but that has nothing to do with their music.) However, unlike my eventual affection for Led Zep, I can’t say I ever came to care much for them. I’ve tried to get into their tunes but it’s just not happened.

Still, I try to remain open, and I know that Wilson’s 2004 album Smile was regarded as a major piece of work. Originally intended as the Beach Boys’ follow-up to the landmark Pet Sounds, Wilson shelved Smile due to various issues. The Beach Boys would never recover.

On this two-DVD release called Brian Wilson Presents Smile, the first disc offers a documentary called Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile. Most of the content comes from interviews. The show features remarks from Wilson, singer/songwriter Elvis Costello, record producer Sir George Martin, Wilson’s boyhood friend Rich Sloan, musician Hal Blaine, original Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, friend Lorren Daro, songwriter Tony Asher, singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb, composer Burt Bacharach, writer/director Rob Reiner, record producer/friend Lou Adler, record producer Lenny Waronker, friend/record producer David Anderle, friend/musician Danny Hutton, musician Mike Melvoin, actor Jeff Bridges, lyricist Van Dyke Parks, author Tom Nolan, friend/journalist Michael Vosse, Parks’ former wife Durrie, session musicians Carol Kaye and Don Randi, singer Roger Daltrey, Brian Wilson bandmembers Probyn Gregory, Jimmy Hines, Paul Mertens, Darian Sahanaja, Taylor Mills, Jeffrey Foskett, Nick Walusko, Bob Lizik and Scott Bennett, journalists Sylvie Simmons and Richard Williams, and wife Melinda.

Dreamer looks at the genesis of Smile. We start with Brian Wilson’s childhood and early musical experiences, teenage ambitions and move into making music, Wilson’s domineering father Murry, the formation and development of the Beach Boys, success, stress, and Wilson’s emotional status, his growing creativity and drug use, competition with the Beatles and the creation of Pet Sounds, and Wilson’s style of “modular” recording and the long genesis of “Good Vibrations”.

From there the show finally gets to Wilson’s work on the aborted album Smile. We find out that Wilson decided to work with lyricist Parks to abet his work and follow their collaboration, the composition of various songs, expectations for the album and aspects of its recording, the album’s theme and goals, Wilson’s increasingly odd behavior, the musicians who worked with Wilson, further business arrangements, Wilson’s growing paranoia and self-imposed pressures, the Beach Boys’ negative reaction to the new material and problems integrating them into the songs, the lengthy recording process and Parks’ exit, Wilson’s growing disenchantment and emotional problems, and the album’s collapse and Wilson’s nervous breakdown.

The remainder of the program deals with Wilson’s life after the apparent demise of Smile and his slow recovery. We hear of his 1995 marriage, Wilson’s return to the concert stage after decades away from that forum, and the resurrection of Smile. Those elements trace Wilson’s surprising revival of the material and the collaborative processes that allowed Wilson to complete the project. These go through good times and bad. The latter include Wilson’s early nervousness about the tour and connected issues. All of these continue until we finally end up at a Smile concert.

In addition to the interviews, we get a mix of musical snippets. We find segments from the Sixties - mostly stills with old recordings laid over them - but we also hear bits of recent performances. Those mostly include songs from Smile that we’ll see more fully when we get to the DVD’s extras.

Go ahead and accuse me of sacrilege right now, but here’s my feeling: Pet Sounds is overrated. I recognize some of the album’s qualities, but I must admit that I don’t comprehend the incredibly high regard in which so many hold it. Good album? Sure. One of the best albums ever made? I can’t agree with that, though like many, I’ve tried. Oh Lord, how I’ve tried to get into Pet Sounds, but the magic continues to elude me.

Because of that, I doubted that I’d dig Smile. I know many regard it as brilliant and the best album of 2004, but given my feelings toward the Beach Boys, it seemed unlikely I’d embrace it, especially not to that degree.

That’s probably a subject best left to the extras when I discuss the Smile concert. (Note that the concert segments of this DVD might be considered part of the main program, but for simplicity, I decided to look at Beautiful Dreamer as the meat and the concert as the dessert.) For now, I’ll restrict my thoughts to Dreamer as a documentary.

As I alluded earlier, I knew something of the Smile debacle that took place in the Sixties, but I didn’t have the full story. For all the strengths of Dreamer, I still feel like I don’t have the full story. Make no mistake - the documentary offers a good history of the project. It digs into a nice basic look at the rise of the Beach Boys and how Wilson came to Smile before it digs into the many issues that affected that album. It doesn’t pull too many punches as it addresses Wilson’s mental problems and the demons that haunted him.

Nonetheless, Dreamer often feels like the authorized history that it is. The absence of any comments from Beach Boys members is a disappointment, though to be fair, two original members - Brian’s brothers Carl and Dennis - are no longer with us. Mike Love still is, but who trusts anything that nutbag has to say?

I still feel like some parts are missing. We don’t hear what happened to the Smile tapes. I was under the impression Wilson destroyed them but the show doesn’t tell us that. I also think that some pieces materialized elsewhere, but again, the program doesn’t follow up to let us know much about the years between 1967 and 1999 or so.

Despite these complaints, I find a lot to like about Dreamer. Yeah, it omits some things, but it digs into matters with reasonable depth. In truth, it feels like two separate documentaries. The segments that look at the Beach Boys and Smile in the Sixties don’t connect that well to the parts about Wilson today. Actually, the show flows just fine even though it rushes through most of a 30-year period, but the much greater availability of behind the scenes footage for the modern Smile segments gives those parts a very different feel. We see Wilson at work instead of hearing soundbites and looking at photos.

Interestingly, these don’t do much to sugarcoat his status. We hear a lot about his continued fragile mental state. Indeed, all his hired musicians treat him with kid gloves as they seem to fear they’ll accidentally cause another mental collapse. I like the fact the show talks about Wilson’s depression and its effects as well as other problems. While it attempts to make the Smile concerts a triumph, it never pretends that Wilson’s all better now.

Beautiful Dreamer remains a slightly incomplete history of what was once the world’s most famous incomplete album, but it’s a good one nonetheless. It provides fairly good detail about the project while it remains coherent and moves through the years. I’d still like something with more about the events in the Sixties, but Dreamer works for me anyway.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Brian Wilson Presents Smile appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many concerns cropped up in this solid presentation.

Sharpness usually looked crisp and detailed. A few shots betrayed minor softness, but these were rare and not a real concern. Overall the picture appeared well-defined and distinct. It showed no jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also saw no problems related to edge enhancement. As for source flaws, I witnessed some light artifacting and graininess, but otherwise the material came across as clean and fresh.

Smile used a subdued palette that fit the show. Since much of it concentrated on archival materials - many of which were black and white - and interviews, we didn’t get a lot of opportunities for vivid hues, so things stayed relaxed and basic. Overall, the disc replicated colors with fine accuracy and clarity, and they always looked real and natural.

Blacks also appeared to be deep and rich. Shadow detail seemed to be concise and appropriately opaque without any form of excessive thickness. Ultimately, I found Smile to provide a strong picture.

Though one might expect a show about music to present a vivid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the program’s chattiness meant that Smile came without a great sonic impact. Sure, music popped up very frequently, but it almost always acted as a background element. Scenes that focused totally on the songs were rare, as someone usually spoke over the material. I don’t mean that as a complaint about the program; it’s totally appropriate for this sort of show. However, it does mean that the songs rarely became prominent in the mix. The presented decent stereo imaging and that was about it.

The mix’s focus stayed largely on the front. Again, the subdued music offered nice stereo while speech remained centered. Almost no instances of effects occurred. One bit illustrated some war sounds in regard to Vietnam, but otherwise that sort of material was essentially absent. Except for the concluding concert segments, the surrounds had almost nothing to do. They played a very small role in the proceedings.

No problems with quality occurred. Speech always remained concise and distinctive, with no edginess or other concerns. Music didn’t challenge us due to its low-key nature, but the songs always sounded full and rich within those constraints. As I noted, effects were infrequent and minor, though they were fine when they appeared. This was a perfectly adequate soundtrack for a documentary.

When we dig into the extras of Smile, we start with DVD One’s isolated audio track. It presents all of the show’s music without any dialogue. Unfortunately, it renders the tunes and score in a 2.0 mix that sounded monaural to me; I skipped through it and didn’t hear any audio from anywhere other than the center speaker. That limits the usefulness of such a component.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find footage from the world premiere of Smile. Shot at London’s Royal Festival Hall in February 2004, we get a two-minute and 28-second clip that features the notorious “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”. We’ll get another rendition of this on DVD Two, but it’s good to find its premiere as a bonus, especially given the tune’s history.

For more from London in 2004, we go to the 13-minute and 42-second After the Show featurette. This promises “post-concert reactions”, and that’s what it delivers. We hear from Wilson and some of his bandmembers as well as Parks and various concertgoers. That roster includes many ordinary fans as well as a few folks we’ll recognize from Dreamer and some minor VIPs. In addition to Roger Daltrey, I recognized Abe Laboriel Jr. and Brian Ray from Paul McCartney’s current band. (Too bad Macca doesn’t appear since he also attended the show.) All the audience members proclaim the greatness of the material, while the musicians tell us how stunned they feel by the reaction. There’s not much substance here - it’s almost all hyperbole.

DVD One ends with some Interview Highlights. We hear a session in which “Van Dyke Parks Interviews Brian Wilson” on February 22, 2004 (15 minutes, 14 seconds) and also find subsequent chats with Wilson from March 16, 2004 (11:05), May 1, 2004 (4:34) and August 16, 2004 (7:45). The Parks piece is more mutual memories than an interview, but it gets into their relationship and collaboration well. The March 16 program concentrates on Wilson’s thoughts upon the conclusion of the tour, while May 1 looks mostly at Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds and the aborted Smile in the Sixties. Finally, August 16 goes over formative events in Wilson’s early years, some elements of his work and other aspects of his life. All of these add up to a nice examination of a mix of areas and they provide good insight.

On DVD Two, the big attraction is Smile Live. Recorded in November 2004, this concert lasts 51 minutes and 51 seconds. As with the Beautiful Dreamer documentary, it comes anamorphic 1.78:1 and it also features Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM stereo soundtracks. The quality seems good. The visuals look a little blocky at times, but overall clarity is positive. The concert offers nice definition and general vivacity. The 5.1 track sounds reasonably full and vibrant. Neither element truly excels, but both are consistently positive.

So what’d I think of the music? I think it’s hard to live up to a legend. With almost 40 years of myth behind the album, it’s difficult for anything to match up with such enormous expectations. Granted, I may not be a great judge since I’ve never been a big Wilson/Beach Boys fan. I can’t say that Smile changes that status.

Mostly Smile comes across as a very busy album. It’s a kitchen sink release, as Wilson packs in every musical idea he can conjure. I prefer more focused material; ambition is good, but artists can get carried away, and that’s how we end up with terrible acts like Yes. Wilson is vastly superior to that kind of nonsense, of course, but the whole symphonic element of Smile does nothing for me other than distract from good melodies and song ideas. I really could live without the sight of hired musicians as they make barnyard sounds, and “Vega-Tables” may well be the most obnoxious song Wilson ever penned. (I do acknowledge that “Good Vibrations” is a really terrific little tune, and one that seems much better focused than most of Smile.)

Despite my lukewarm reception of Smile itself, I can’t fault those musicians or Wilson in their reproduction of the material. You won’t find a lot of spontaneity on stage, but the band brings the album to life well. Smile does end up as a visually unexciting performance, though Wilson presents a more animated presence than I expected. When you watch the concert segments in Beautiful Dreamer, Wilson usually looks stiffer than a frozen caveman, and his eyes betray a desire to leave and leave now.

Shot after they’d had Smile on the road for a while, this concert shows a livelier and more relaxed Wilson. He isn’t and never will be Mick Jagger, but at least he doesn’t look like he hopes someone will shoot him in the end. Heck, Wilson even smiles on occasion.

Next we find a Brian Wilson Photo Gallery. This presents snapshots as a running piece that lasts nine minutes and four seconds. These start with his infancy and follow him through the Sixties; nothing from later years appears. Still, it’s a decent little collection of mostly candid pictures.

Brian Wilson at the Piano compiles many of the performance clips glimpsed in Beautiful Dreamer. We get eight clips for five songs: “Rhapsody in Blue”, “Good Vibrations” (X2), “Heroes and Villians” (X3), “Wonderful” and “Cabin Essence”. It’s nice to get these performances on their own.

After this comes a 19-minute and 40-second featurette about The Recording of Smile. This presents comments from Wilson but mainly shows the sessions at the studio. This becomes most interesting when the musicians stop and Wilson provides feedback. He often seems like such a feeb that it’s a revelation to see how he takes charge in the studio.

Finally, the set ends with a fan video for “Heroes and Villains”. Mostly it focuses on very crude stop-motion animation. It’s not very entertaining.

Though I never really got into the Beach Boys, I recognize and respect Brian Wilson’s talent. Brian Wilson Presents Smile offers a solid examination of his once-lost album. Through the main documentary and its extras, we find a mostly fine look at the music’s history, its resurrection, and its continued life on stage. The DVD presents very good picture along with perfectly adequate sound in addition to those useful extras. Smile is a serious must-have for established fans, and it’s a good starting point for neophytes with an interest in Wilson and the Beach Boys.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9166 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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