Brian Wilson has always been a figure of much scrutiny and curiosity — one of the first big rock or pop stars to shun the promotional spotlight. While the Beach Boys were for much of their career regarded as little more than a silly surf-pop hit factory, Wilson’s stature has only grown with time, as his creative and sensitive compositions have inspired and taken hold of a new generation of musicians. That fact gets studied and celebrated in the fascinating new musical documentary Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1962-1969.
Running over three hours, this superlative title assays the vast amount of material Wilson wrote for and recorded with the Beach Boys during their 1960s heyday, digging into the craftsmanship of the music itself but also smartly framing the material as it relates to the familial group’s career arc and Wilson’s own delicate psyche. All sorts of talking head experts weigh in, but the major difference maker is access to those who matter and are in the know — a group that includes fellow Beach Boys Bruce Johnston and David Marks, former manager and promoter Fred Vail, biographers Peter Ames Carlin and Domenic Priore, and many other family friends.
Snippets of rare and classic recordings stud this release, along with lots of other obscure footage and solid archive interviews, making this the rare biographically-inflected title that doesn’t feature much direct cooperation or reflection from its subject and yet nonetheless feels comprehensive. By far the most interesting portion of the title focuses on the recording and 1966 release of the groundbreaking Pet Sounds, which was a notable departure from what the Beach Boys had recorded up until then. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows” (which never really stabilizes on a particular key) are illuminated in interesting fashion, and Johnston and others talk about how “Sloop John B,” a leftover from the previous year’s Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) sessions, fits into the album. The latter also talks about Capitol Records’ relative disdain for the album at the time — evident in their indifferent promotion, and quickie release of a greatest hits package — and how the release of “Caroline, No” as a single was “a shot across the bow,” in his opinion.
Spread across two discs and housed in a nice, quasi-hard-shell case with plastic snap-in trays, Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1962-1969 comes to DVD presented in anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 2.0 stereo track. Supplemental bonus features include contributor biographies, a small clutch of extended interview clips, and a mini-featurette in which Johnston recalls John Lennon and Paul McCartney getting an early preview listen to Pet Sounds. To purchase the DVD, click here; or, if Amazon is totally and irretrievably your thing, click here. A- (Movie) B- (Disc)