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Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (A Music Video Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE

Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE


Starring Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, George Martin, Elvis Costello, Roger Daltrey, Rob Reiner, Jeff Bridges, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Michael Vosse and Paul McCartney.

Written by David Leaf.

Directed by David Leaf.

Distributed by Rhino Home Video.  240 minutes.  Not Rated.

The word “genius” is thrown around so often in music circles that it’s lost its meaning. But if there’s one person eminently deserving of that lofty accolade, it’s Beach Boys leader and visionary Brian Wilson. A new two-DVD set, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE: The DVD (Rhino Home Video) offers a definitive look at the creation and ultimate resurrection of this long fabled release.

Disc one includes the excellent documentary, Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson And the Story of SMiLE, which originally aired on Showtime.  Written and directed by award-winning producer/director David Leaf (author of the terrific Brian Wilson biography, The Beach Boys & The California Myth), Beautiful Dreamer charts the creation and ultimate heartbreaking shelving of SMiLE back in the mid-Sixties. The follow-up to the brilliant Pet Sounds album, the music was brutally dismissed at the time by band mate Mike Love as self-indulgent twaddle. Pay no mind to the mean-spirited commentary of Mr. Love. SMiLE makes you do just that. In BIG letters too. Vibrant and multi-dimensional, SMiLE is a wondrous wide-screen song cycle enjoining a dizzying array of elements of music hall, vaudeville, pop, R&B, folk, Appalachian, and avant-garde touches to create a wholly unique and transcendent sonic tapestry. Upon finally being recorded and released in 2004, the public unanimously embraced the album.  Critics hailed as it as “masterpiece” (Newsweek) and a five-star release (Rolling Stone) while the industry bestowed the record with three Grammy nominations.

The show examines SMiLE’s mythic stature as the unreleased musical masterpiece of the past fifty years and chronicles the near impossible and insurmountable task of first convincing Wilson to not only revisit this work but actually complete it and triumphantly bring it to the concert stage. The viewer is treated to rare vintage glimpses of Wilson in the studio working on SMiLE back in the Sixties, initial rehearsal sessions for the SMiLE concert plus candid interview clips with Wilson, lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Beatles producer Sir George Martin, Elvis Costello, Who lead vocalist Roger Daltrey and celluloid stars, Rob Reiner and Jeff Bridges.

From there, you follow Wilson as he prepares for the debut performance of his epic. Facing his demons head-on, Wilson is clearly still unsure and unsettled at finally sharing SMiLE with the music world at large. You almost can see Wilson’s head spinning with doubts. Will the album live up to over 35 years of critical praise, hype and mythology or will the innate complexity, unprecedented ambition, and sophistication of its musical vignettes fail to find a home with an audience and be construed as an anachronistic oddity or artistic blunder?

Watching Beautiful Dreamer, slowly you can sense Wilson’s confidence growing, from early rehearsals of the SMiLE material to nervous preparations for the debut live performance of the music. By the time, Wilson and bandmates land onstage to premiere the debut performance of SMiLE at London’s Royal Festival Hall in February of 2004, you, the viewer, is rooting for this once reclusive musical legend to conquer his demons and emerge victorious. Stirring musical moments from the show are featured throughout the documentary capped with a nice shot of Paul McCartney in the audience, standing on his feet, cheering for his friend and fellow musical comrade. For years Wilson has resisted the temptation of revisiting SMiLE, perhaps the weight of expectations was too great, perhaps the music resonated with too many painful memories of what could have been. To see a fearless Wilson finally tackle this musical beast and emerge a champion is heart-rending. Kudos to David Leaf for crafting a spectacularly moving program that deftly captures the complexities, painful insecurities, human frailties and naked emotions that comprise the entity known as SMiLE.

Disc two presents an entire performance of the SMiLE album shot in Los Angeles. From the opening number “Our Prayer/Gee” to the closing “Good Vibrations” (featuring the original lyrics written for the song), the concert seamlessly navigates the shining melodic contours, nuances and inherent complexities of this musical masterpiece. “In Blue Hawaii”, newly written by Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, is a marvelously moving travelogue in song that stands up with such SMiLE stalwarts as “Wonderful, “ Child Is Fatherof the Man,” “Surf’s Up”, “Heroes and Villains” and “Cabin Essence.” Never comfortable in a live setting, what’s remarkable about this performance is how relaxed Wilson is. He’s in fine voice, and seemingly having the time of his life, actually smiling throughout the show, as if a giant fifty-pound chip is off his shoulder. Wilson’s band featuring members of L.A. power pop phenoms, The Wondermints, are exceptional and deserve special mention, tackling the material with a studied authenticity, wily intricacy, elegance and winning enthusiasm.

The DVD is packed with over two hours of enticing extras including solo piano performances of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” (Wilson’s favorite song) “Good Vibrations,” “Heroes And Villains,” “Wonderful,” and “Cabin Essence”, a SMiLE recording sessions featurette, a complete performance of “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”, a “Heroes And Villains” Contest Winning Video, photo gallery, interview outtakes and more.

Quite simply, this is the gripping story of an extraordinary man, and an extraordinary album that took 35 years to finish. And it was well worth the wait. Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE offers a musical journey you will never forget.  (4/05)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2005  All rights reserved. Posted: May 25, 2005.


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