Compelling Music Documentary

The great American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson has seemingly fallen off the cultural radar since his major musical success in the late ’60s and ’70s. The late Nilsson (1941-1994) is probably most famous for singing the smash hit “Everybody’s Talkin’” from Midnight Cowboy. The holder of two Grammy awards and seventeen gold records, his music has receded from the spotlight outside of giant hits like “Without You.”

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) is a candid and often captivating documentary from John Scheinfeld about Nilsson’s life and career. The documentary is awash with close family members and music business celebrities who personally knew Nilsson, remembering both the good and bad times. It’s a compelling look at the musician as a man and his unique musical genius.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? is the definitive portrait of the singer

The prodigiously talented singer had a natural gift for melody. Other musicians like the Beatles immediately recognized his talents, singling out Nilsson as their favorite American act. Nilsson ultimately became close friends with John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Starr would eventually narrate The Point as a favor, the animated musical film Nilsson conceived and wrote the soundtrack for in its entirety.

The star-studded line-up of interview clips includes Robin Williams, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb, Paul Williams, Yoko Ono, Al Kooper, Richard Perry, Mickey Dolenz and more. Harry Nilsson’s singing and songwriting were profoundly respected in the music business and many famous musicians admired his work.

The one elephant in the room is the noticeable absence of Ringo Starr. The former Beatle was close friends with Nilsson and served as best man at his third wedding. He apparently declined an appearance, leaving others in the music business to fill in the gaps. Archival clips featuring John Lennon are included that discuss his relationship with Harry Nilsson.

Some of the best contributions in Who Is Harry Nilsson? are from Nilsson’s relatives. Both his second and third wife recount their happy and unhappy experiences with Nilsson. Several children from his relatively happy third marriage to Una O’Keefe appear in positive interviews recalling their father. Rare home movies and previously unseen photographs are highlighted.

The mostly honest documentary doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat Nilsson’s life. Who Is Harry Nilsson? is respectful of the music legend without whitewashing his personal difficulties away. It’s a surprisingly multifaceted portrayal that captures Nilsson’s personality with wit, class, and humor. It doesn’t shy away from his demons and the toll they took on him.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? is the definitive portrait of the singer. It’s absolutely essential for Harry Nilsson’s many fans and admirers.

Video

Credit to MVD Visual in one regard concerning this Blu-ray’s upscaled video quality. The back cover mentions how the documentary was originally created and mastered in standard definition. MVD Visual has merely upscaled that so-so source to 1080i for Blu-ray. Originally released in 2010, it’s hard believing a major documentary would only exist in SD but there is an abundance of older archival footage dating back to the 70s and 80s that could only exist in SD.

The upscaled 1.33:1 presentation is adequate considering the limited source material. Newer talking head interviews are shot in decent quality with fine clarity. It’s a passable upscale with visual remnants of that process – aliasing and combing artifacts are occasionally prominent. The archival footage is in varying quality, ranging from rough to serviceable.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? runs 115 minutes on a BD-25. The AVC encode handles the interlaced video with no major flaws. All in all, the picture quality is not a reason to pick this disc up. If you own the DVD, don’t buy it expecting a materially improved viewing experience outside of slightly improved compression.

Audio

The 2.0 PCM audio in stereo highlights Harry Nilsson’s biggest hits and musical creativity. It’s a strong sonic presentation for a music documentary with fine dynamics and crystal-clear dialogue. Bits of Nilsson’s music are peppered throughout the documentary, though falls well short of including complete musical performances.

Some fifty music clips are included in one form or another. By all standards, this excellent audio track may be the primary reason a fan might want to purchase this BD, if they happen to already own the documentary on DVD.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a yellow font.

Extras

The Blu-ray is listed as all regions. A lot of deleted material but nothing tying them together.

“Loneliness” Music Video W/ Yoko Ono Introduction (07:01 in SD) – A song released by Nilsson in 1984.

Deleted Scenes And Extended Interviews (All in SD) – The disc has seventeen different segments that didn’t make the final cut, running in length from one minute to over five minutes each.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) Trailer (02:28 in SD)

The Point Trailer (02:13 in SD)

The Go-Go Boys Trailer (02:27 in HD)

Fahrenheit 9/11 Trailer (02:08 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Who is Harry Nilsson?
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

An essential, star-studded documentary that delves into the life and career of acclaimed singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 35 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: