Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
DVD Reviews
By Christopher DeCrocker and Clay McCuistion

Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE – DVD
LSL Productions

Notes from editor:
Sometimes EAR CANDY will run more than one review of a release – just to get a couple of (hopefully) different opinions. With the DVD release of Brian Wilson Presents Smile, we are doing just that - giving you a couple of reviews. Although we previous reviewed Beautiful Dreamer in October of 2004, that film is only part of the new Brian Wilson Presents Smile DVD – so we figured a new review was warranted.

Ironically, it was the fans that got royally screwed with this release – if they pre-ordered from LSL. It seems that many of the stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy had the DVD available before the official release date and at a cheaper price. So, not only did the fan have to pay more, but they got it after many others who simply went to their local store.

Review by Christopher DeCrocker:

This month Rhino releases its long-awaited Brian Wilson Presents Smile DVD, a two-disc package featuring David Leaf’s Beautiful Dreamer documentary, a live performance of Smile, and several extras including recording outtakes, extra interviews, performances, a photo gallery, and a music video. Fans have been waiting for this since they saw cameras filming early shows on the tour, including the Royal Festival Hall premiere. The set is a very worthy companion to the CD and vinyl releases.

Leaf’s documentary, while offering few new pieces of information, is an engrossing piece of work that is probably the perfect single introduction to the entire Smile story. While other films, like Don Was’ I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times and The Beach Boys: An American Band offer some tantalizing fragments regarding the story, Beautiful Dreamer covers much more than those documentaries while also featuring new interviews with key players. Leaf managed to talk to Lorren Schwartz, Van Dyke and Durrie Parks, David Anderle, Danny Hutton, and of course Brian. Al, Bruce, and Mike are absent, which is a shame, but understandable. The only person I wish Leaf had spoken to out of the potentially willing was Marilyn, as she witnessed the creation of much of this music in her own home. To make up for missing persons, though, the extra interviews provide a nice tangent from the proper documentary, particularly Van Dyke Parks’ interview of Brian. They discuss Brian’s favorite part of Smile, their songwriting and social history, and Van gets Brian to discuss his feelings regarding a return to the material as well as play parts of several songs.

The other major portion of this set, the live show, is a gift for fans unable to see the show in person. Brian appears happy, energetic and proud of his 37 years of work. And he should be. The only weakness with the show is the fluctuating volume. Perhaps the live experience is similar, but some parts were very quiet while others were very loud, partly killing the mood. The filmed studio sessions provide a nice elaboration of the live experience, though. We get to see the band working on “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” “Heroes and Villains,” “In Blue Hawaii,” and “Good Vibrations,” among other bits.

Aside from the sound issues mentioned above, and the fact that the set seems to focus on “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations” over other songs, it is as perfect an encapsulation of the Smile phenomenon as is available. New fans will be able to easily get wrapped up in the story, which for once portrays the music in a positive light. Old fans will enjoy looking at the work in the studio, the partnership of Brian and Van, and Brian’s ultimate triumph. Watching him move, speak, and act is like witnessing the 24 year-old living through his golden era all over again. This is a set that will impress on first viewing and easily grow with time.

Review by Clay McCuistion:

This is it. I've been mulling for much of the past two weeks how to describe, how to encapsulate this magnificent two-disc set documenting Brian Wilson's musical and personal journey in presenting Smile to the world. There are several ways to approach this release--from the angle of previous Wilson DVD issues, from the ardent Smile fanatic's viewpoint, from the everyday Joe's armchair. But none of those perspectives do justice to the work. Smile spans genres and years, linking a time of almost limitless possibilities (the mid-to-late 60s) with today's uncertain, postmodern times. Smile exists in both of these times, yet it is of neither. It is deeply personal yet widely applicable. It is funny yet somber. It is complex, yet based on the simplest of melodic motifs. And yet the simple, audio presentation of Wilson's magnum opus released last year didn't communicate everything. Yes, it was polished by an accomplished performing ensemble. Yes, it presented Wilson is excellent voice. But the sense of occasion one could hear in the audience recordings of the first live performances was distant. Not absent, but not up front either. All of this has been addressed in the DVD. As I said, this is it.

The first disc contains the documentary "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile." I watched this back when it was broadcast on Showtime. It struck me then, and it strikes me now, as a uniquely sympathetic portrait of an artist coming to terms with his legacy. No, it's not perfect--memories have faded, and a somewhat broader pool of interviewees would help--but it succeeds on its own terms. It ranks with "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and "Endless Harmony" as one of the definitive documentaries about Wilson. The extras on disc one include revealing interviews with Wilson, from throughout the process of rehearsing Smile, the tour that followed, and the recording that came after that. A featurette shows audience reaction after the initial concert. A performance of "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" from opening night is pleasant, but hardly the one performance from that show I would like to see on the DVD. Finally, the trailer for the documentary is included.

The bonanza of new material can be seen on the second disc, which includes a live performance of the album, footage of Wilson at the piano and at the recording sessions, and a fan video for "Heroes and Villains." The concert is revelatory. We see and hear Brian and his band at their peak. The surround-sound audio mix spreads out the audio to six speakers with clarity and warmth. I could write an essay on it alone, but suffice to say that Mark Linett had done Wilson and the band proud. The video of the show goes to great lengths to show the contributions of everyone in the band. This is crucial. One of my hesitations, I realize now, about the Smile CD is that it presented the work as one man's vision. "Brian Wilson presents Smile." It's hard to get around that title. But Smile is more than Brian Wilson's private fantasia. It's a collaboration, in the truest sense of the word. Van Dyke Parks' lyrics provide thematic unity, and the sequencing assistance of Darian Sahanaja helped the decades-old fragments cohere into three luminous suites. The Brian Wilson band breathes life into the music. On the CD, all of that assistance was suggested, but not underlined. On the DVD, we witness how important all of these creative people have been in bringing this masterwork to fruition.

This is not to diminish Brian's role. I would argue that the bonus clips of him playing the piano allow us to see how Smile's melodies and arrangements came from his fingertips. We can listen to the basic piano feel behind "Wonderful." We can watch him re-create "Good Vibrations" with the original bassist, Carol Kaye. We can listen to him run through "Cabin Essence," warts and all, with Darian on the piano. This kind of unvarnished music making, as slight as it may seem, contributes mightily to our understanding of Wilson. The work comes from here, David Leaf seems to be telling us.

Could Wilson perhaps be a bit more involved with these solo performances? Sure. But we're lucky to have them at all. What marvelous work he does in the main program, though! Wilson has never looked or sounded more engaged in live performance. This goes for his appearances in the 1960s as well. Just listen to him improvise and riff on the songs. Watch him project so much earnestness and sincerity it melts your heart. Just watch. I'm sure the program has been gussied up somewhat for the DVD presentation, but it's quite close to actual live performances. I saw Wilson perform in Tampa in October, and he was similarly engaged. Some don't believe Brian is back. Some continue to ask for proof of his continued creative ability. To them, I say this: watch. Watch the DVD. Watch Wilson live, as I have. Watch the DVD again. This is it.

A note of praise must go to the packaging. The distinctive design of the CD has been enlarged to DVD form, complete with slipcase and a fold-out poster. The design doesn't try to distract from the music or make some alternative commentary, attempting to make Smile and Wilson of-the-moment. Instead, the packaging makes the package seem like the timeless, classy work that it is.

What ultimately shows through these performances, in both documentary and concert, is joy. Joy from Brian, joy from the band members behind him, joy from those capturing this event on film. The joy is tangible, and it transforms this event. Youth suffuses Brian's voice and appearance. His backing band, as he's said before, resembles angels. You believe in the power of healing and forgiveness and creativity and all of the things that make art--and life--worthwhile in these complicated times. For, in the midst of darkness, in the middle of confusion, the dark and confused genius of Brian Wilson has a one-word message for us: Smile.