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Author Topic: Love & Mercy: At Five Years  (Read 799 times)
Jason Manley
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« on: July 30, 2020, 07:27:04 PM »

On June 5th, 2020, LOVE & MERCY celebrated its 5th anniversary. This excellent article by Stephen Silver at Life Living Fearless chronicles just why and how the film was last decades best music biopic. I wanted to take this opportunity to write a few thoughts about how much I love this picture and what it means to me.

As a young child, growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, my parents were not unlike many nostalgic Silent Generation/Boomer parents with their love of early Beach Boys tunes. They were played in the car, on road trips, around the house on Sunday afternoons when "oldies" programs were featured on the radio. The music almost seemed like purely American traditional/lullabies that came from some time long before I was born. But in reality, the music I was hearing was only in many cases no more than 15 or 20 years old at that point.

When my adulthood approached in the mid 90s I watched the Don Was documentary I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES. At that point in my life, some of my favorite music was what might now be called "Indie Rock" or, then, "Alternative Rock"; bands like Pavement, Guided by Voices or Sonic Youth. So, imagine my surprise when I saw non other than Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) appeared in the Was documentary heaping praise on the music of Brian Wilson. At this point in my journey of music appreciation I had already gone through a Phil Spector phase (when the BACK TO MONO box set came out). But I had never really reassessed The Beach Boys. To mean, they were still the band from my childhood that sang about cars, girls and California.

It was precisely at upon viewing that documentary and my later reappraisal of the catalog that my nearly Twenty-Five year (as of this writing) adoration and love of Brian and BB music began. At the time, I worked in a CD shop and had access to all kinds of books and early iterations of music databases. I read up on PET SOUNDS and the history of Brian's work with musicians Spector favored, etc. I can remember exactly where I was when I first played that album. I was at work, I had gone to the rack and grabbed that CD, bought it, opened it and played it in the store on the main system. "Love at first listen" is one way I would describe the experience – almost religious, is another. Like most everyone that has their "moment" discovering (or rediscovering) the music of The Beach Boys and Brian you follow all avenues and wherever they take you for that same transcendental evocation of tapping into something bigger. Even the childhood lullabies like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Surfin' U.S.A." seem to take on some more grandiose meaning after being "born again".

There have been a number of great books about The Beach Boys and Brian. "The Nearest Faraway Place", "Catch a Wave" to name a couple. I wanted someone to take that same "serious" approach to Brian's story, but on film. When someone has such a 'cinematic' life, as Brian has had, it begs to be properly captured as a feature film. There have, of course, been TV movies; ABC's "The Beach Boys: An American Family" from 2000 and the nearly equally uninspired "Summer Dreams" from 1990. What I was pining for was something like Haskell Wexler's 1976 film BOUND FOR GLORY (Woody Guthrie), Milos Forman's 1984 film AMADEUS (Mozart) or Francois Girard's 1993 film THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD – in other words... ART.

So, in 2006, my interest was piqued when I read this article Surf's up for Wilson bio. And, like I would come to get used to over the coming few years, more "white puffs of smoke" would emanate from the "Wilson Chapel" only to go nowhere. Finally in 2011, this article appeared, giving renewed hope: Beach Boy Brian Wilson's story will come to the screen, courtesy of the screenwriter of 'I'm Not There'. Only this time, more stories followed about a completed screenplay, casting and finally, filming.

As the film finally premiered in 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival I was really tempted to try to find a way to go, but ultimately decided to wait for a general release in the U.S. I'm still grateful to those on this board that did attend TIFF in 2014 and shared their first hand accounts. The next 7-8 months were LONG. Finally, on June 5th, 2015... I was sitting in my seat at the very first showing at the AMC theater near me that Friday morning – something I almost never do – I took a day off from work to see a movie. Seeing Bill Pohlad's LOVE & MERCY, about one of my biggest heroes, was a solemn, emotional experience. The producers, screenwriter Oren Moverman and director Pohlad had managed to skillfully and artfully tell the story of Brian Wilson in a way that was both palatable for the masses but also crafty enough to be shown in art house theaters – that's a serious achievement for a two-hour motion picture. I did what I could only think to do... I went back to the counter out front and bought a ticket to see it again – IMMEDIATELY. While waiting for that 2nd showing I sat in the lobby and wrote (in the notes app of my iPhone) most of what I would later post on Amazon as my formal "review" (titled "The Life of Brian").

Over the course of its theatrical run I saw LOVE & MERCY a total of fourteen times. Sometimes I was focusing more on specific scenes, sometimes I was there to soak in the sumptuous Atticus Ross 'soundscapes'. But mainly, I wanted to take every opportunity I could to enjoy this magnificent film in the proper setting, while I still could. I think it's safe to say that I love this film deeply and equally – I love the music and the man.

Since we're at the 5th anniversary, I think it would be awesome if anyone would like to chime in with their own stories or anecdotes... favorite scenes or moments?

Stay safe, healthy... and Love & Mercy to you.

« Last Edit: July 30, 2020, 07:29:01 PM by Jason Manley » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2020, 05:04:34 AM »

Thanks for that awesome write-up! 14 times! Your review on Amazon hits the nail on the head. Also thanks for the information about the deleted scenes that we haven’t seen yet. It is, too, my hope that an extended version of this film comes out. Man I wish it had just come with the blu-ray copy when it was first released. I fear that it’s not popular enough of a movie to warrant a future special edition release. But I would be extremely happy to be proven wrong about that (maybe Criterion would be willing to take on such a project).

As for my thoughts about the film 5 years later: while I saw it in theaters 3-4 times (the most I’ve ever gone back to see a movie in the theaters) I have only watched it three times since it’s theater run ended. I actually find myself listening to the soundtrack more often (Atticus Ross’ work is incredible and inspirational to creative types).

So much of my appreciation of this movie stems from finally being able to show people “this is why I’m obsessed with The Beach Boys.” - knowing that I no longer have to explain why I’m obsessed, I can just easily let ‘Love and Mercy’ do the talking for me.

The makers of this film went to phenomenal lengths to make sure every set was as accurate as they could make it (in the confines of their budget). The little homages peppered throughout the film are fun to decipher. The LSD scene is absolutely perfect, right down to the surprising music choice.

When this first came out I got a lot of pushback from people when I pointed out what I thought were very specific character placements in certain scenes (Dennis sitting on the railing, Carl drinking a beer, and Brian laying in the sunlounger when they’re talking about the future), and to this day I absolutely stand by my thoughts regarding all of that.

This movie was indeed a work of love and works of love aren’t just thrown together. Each scene was carefully thought out, each set piece was meticulously looked at. Like the homage to 2001 during the ‘The Bed Montage’ scene, so many other scenes had these hidden meanings...which, even if you don’t pick up on this stuff, is what makes this film look so unique.

Which leads me to my next point: while I love the biopic “Walk The Line” I am so glad that “Love and Mercy” didn’t go that same route. While very similar in redemption themes, “Love and Mercy” has so many of these seemingly quirky decisions regarding where to place characters, camera angles, almost perfect recreations of famous moments in beach boys history. The film is so unique in so many ways and it’s one of many reasons why it will likely always be one of my favorite movies ever.

Jason, thanks for bringing up that it’s the 5 year anniversary (I can’t believe it has been 5 years!). I think I’ll watch this movie very soon in honor of the occasion.

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Jason Manley
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« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2020, 12:59:22 PM »

First, it’s nice to talk with someone that shares my same enthusiasm about the picture. If I could use a potentially odd analogy, there are Beach Boys fans that waited 40 years to finally hear "SMiLE". While I can't claim to be among their ranks due to when I was born (1976); I can say that I waited years and years (like 15-20) to finally see a Wilson biopic on the screen. Dutifully following each development along the way. I cannot imagine being more pleased with the final product than I was in June, 2015 – and today.

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So much of my appreciation of this movie stems from finally being able to show people “this is why I’m obsessed with The Beach Boys.” - knowing that I no longer have to explain why I’m obsessed, I can just easily let ‘Love and Mercy’ do the talking for me.

Right! I picture L&M being the kind of film that is rediscovered in 10-20 years. When someone says... "so why is PET SOUNDS" considered the CITIZEN KANE of pop albums"... just say – watch this.

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When this first came out I got a lot of pushback from people when I pointed out what I thought were very specific character placements in certain scenes (Dennis sitting on the railing, Carl drinking a beer, and Brian laying in the sunlounger when they’re talking about the future), and to this day I absolutely stand by my thoughts regarding all of that.

I think you are right that any bit of nuance in the film is purposeful. Placement of characters in the scenes you mentioned and there are moments that elude back (shot of reflecting water and no Dennis during in the 'The Bed Montage' flashback); absolutely those are meant to be Easter eggs. There's quite a few actually.

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Which leads me to my next point: while I love the biopic “Walk The Line” I am so glad that “Love and Mercy” didn’t go that same route. While very similar in redemption themes, “Love and Mercy” has so many of these seemingly quirky decisions regarding where to place characters, camera angles, almost perfect recreations of famous moments in beach boys history. The film is so unique in so many ways and it’s one of many reasons why it will likely always be one of my favorite movies ever.

Likewise!

The fact that all involved (Pohlad, Moverman, Ross, et al.) chose to take the road less traveled when deciding how to tell Brian's story all but ensures that L&M will viewed fondly for many years to come. If it had been like "Walk the Line" or "Ray" (both of which I think are fine, if vanilla, biopics) I would've been disappointed. Not even going to mention "Bohemian Rhapsody" which the Academy heaped with praise with multiple nominations – just completely baffling. That film bordered on parody.

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It is, too, my hope that an extended version of this film comes out. Man I wish it had just come with the blu-ray copy when it was first released. I fear that it’s not popular enough of a movie to warrant a future special edition release. But I would be extremely happy to be proven wrong about that (maybe Criterion would be willing to take on such a project).

Speaking of an extended version of L&M, when the BD was released I was very pleased to see that it included the four deleted scenes. And as my web deep dives commenced in 2015-2016, I found other film stills from various sources that indicated additional scenes or moments that were filmed and left out of the theatrical film.

Unidentified Scene #1 – Brian - Past (Paul Dano) is listening to "Be My Baby" over and over on his stereo in his room.



Unidentified Scene #2 – Brian - Future (John Cusack) speaks with Landy (Paul Giamatti) about how to say goodnight to Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) after their first date.



Unidentified Scene #3 – Brian - Future (Cusack) receives intravenous drugs from Landy (Giamatti) Landy. Director Bill Pohlad looking on behind Giamatti.



Unidentified Scene #4 – Landy (Giamatti) and Brian - Future (Cusack) on the beach for a walk.



Unidentified Scene #5 – Same as #4. A brief moment of this can be glimpsed during the "The Bed Montage" flashback scene.



Unidentified Scene #6 – Possible flashback scene to Landy (Giamatti) during the "Bed Years". I think a moment or two from this scene is used during the "The Bed Montage" flashback near the end of the film.



Unidentified Scene #7 – Melinda (Banks) possibly at a restaurant. She doesn't wear this dress anywhere in the finished film.



Unidentified Scene #8 – Van Dyke Parks (Max Schneider) and Brian - Past (Dano) write a song, possibly "Surf's Up" or "Heroes and Villains".



Unidentified Scene #9 – Brian - Past (Dano) and Director Pohlad hanging out. Don't recognize the car being used in the film and I don't recall that exact combination of outfit for Brian - Past. Doesn't necessarily mean this portends a deleted scene but... possibly?



Unidentified Scene #10 – Brian - Past (Dano) and Marilyn (Drake) watch TV in their den. If I'm not mistaken this is where Brian - Past sees news of the fire on TV and is paranoid that the "The Elements: Fire" caused the fire.



Unidentified Scene #11 – Audree Wilson (Joanna Going), Carl Wilson (Brett Davern), Marilyn (Drake) and Dennis Wilson (Kenny Wormald) are at the end of Brian's bed, presumably in the 60's given the decor and their attire. Possibly from a flashback? Unsure.



Unidentified Scene #12 – Brian - Past (Dano) at the piano in the den of the Bel-Air house. I think it's likely that this is not a full scene, instead, simply flickering moments used in during the 'The Bed Montage' flashback. Although, it's possible that it was a more fleshed out scene that was truncated to be used in the flashback. Would love to know!



Miscellaneous Scene #1 – Very likely part of Unidentified Scene #1, with Brian - Past (Dano) listening to "Be My Baby" on his headphones while Marilyn (Drake) sleeps in the background.



I actually found this on the Japanese Facebook page, of all places, in the summer of 2015. I'm like 99% positive it depicts the scene described in 'Unidentified Scene #1'.

Miscellaneous Scene #2 – Completely unsure what this is from. It's a production still with nothing to orient you.



Back to my waiting 37 years for "SMiLE" analogy from some of the OG's... my fascination with L&M is not unlike other films I have found myself obsessed with through the years.

Malick's THE THIN RED LINE and Fincher's ZODIAC – to name a couple – I wanted to know everything I could about the production, screenplay, cinematography, sound design, editing... everything. L&M is in that company of films (quality wise), IMO.

« Last Edit: July 31, 2020, 01:10:37 PM by Jason Manley » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2020, 12:17:19 AM »

Because it's been on various streaming service (Amazon prime etc), I've watched the film multiple times, and it's truly a dream film for fans of BW's work.  If, before this film, you'd asked a typical hardcore fan which period of BW's output he'd like to see reeanacted on film, the Pet Sounds/Good Vibrations/Smile era would likely have been the answer.  And then to see it depicted with such authenticity and attention to minute detail is incredible.  Dialogue is lifted from the actual session tapes.  Recording sessions are reenacted practically note-for-note.  Costumes are near-duplicates of what Brian and the studio musicians actually wore.  Western 3 is recreated in all its glory.  The piano/sandbox/Banana & Louie/the Inside Pop Surf's Up etc etc ad infinitum.  For the core fan, it obviously doesn't get much better than this.

But does it work as film for a larger audience?  Does it speak to non-fans who don't give a crap whether Paul Dano is wearing a competition-stripe surfer shirt exactly like the one that Brian wore to Heroes & Villiains tracking session #12 ?

I think that it does.  Let me share the story about watching the DVD of the film with a non-fan, namely my late father.   During the last years of my father's life, when he suffering some pretty major health problems, I kept him company quite a bit and we often watched movies from Netflix.  Shortly after the DVD became available on NFLX, I added it to the queue.  Now, by way of background, my father was of an older generation than the Beach Boys, approximately 15 years older than Brian Wilson.  My father was a talented singer in his youth and sang with an accomplished boys choir. As such, he was aware of and appreciative of the Beach Boys' singing prowess and sheer musicality, but he was not a fan per se.  He never owned a Beach Boys record or attended a BB concert in his life.   So what did my dad, as about as objective of a viewer as you could possibly find, think of Love & Mercy? I'll tell you, he really enjoyed the film!  He was fascinated by the 1966-67 studio scenes and insight into Brian's creative process during that peak period, but he was also quite taken by the Landy-era story.

« Last Edit: August 01, 2020, 12:25:56 AM by juggler » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2020, 01:55:50 PM »

Because it's been on various streaming service (Amazon prime etc), I've watched the film multiple times, and it's truly a dream film for fans of BW's work.  If, before this film, you'd asked a typical hardcore fan which period of BW's output he'd like to see reeanacted on film, the Pet Sounds/Good Vibrations/Smile era would likely have been the answer.  And then to see it depicted with such authenticity and attention to minute detail is incredible.  Dialogue is lifted from the actual session tapes.  Recording sessions are reenacted practically note-for-note.  Costumes are near-duplicates of what Brian and the studio musicians actually wore.  Western 3 is recreated in all its glory. The piano/sandbox/Banana & Louie/the Inside Pop Surf's Up etc etc ad infinitum.  For the core fan, it obviously doesn't get much better than this.

But does it work as film for a larger audience?  Does it speak to non-fans who don't give a crap whether Paul Dano is wearing a competition-stripe surfer shirt exactly like the one that Brian wore to Heroes & Villiains tracking session #12 ?

I think that it does.  Let me share the story about watching the DVD of the film with a non-fan, namely my late father.   During the last years of my father's life, when he suffering some pretty major health problems, I kept him company quite a bit and we often watched movies from Netflix.  Shortly after the DVD became available on NFLX, I added it to the queue.  Now, by way of background, my father was of an older generation than the Beach Boys, approximately 15 years older than Brian Wilson.  My father was a talented singer in his youth and sang with an accomplished boys choir. As such, he was aware of and appreciative of the Beach Boys' singing prowess and sheer musicality, but he was not a fan per se.  He never owned a Beach Boys record or attended a BB concert in his life.   So what did my dad, as about as objective of a viewer as you could possibly find, think of Love & Mercy? I'll tell you, he really enjoyed the film!  He was fascinated by the 1966-67 studio scenes and insight into Brian's creative process during that peak period, but he was also quite taken by the Landy-era story.

Agree on all counts! I'm sorry to hear about your father's passing, my sympathies.

You hit upon one of the biggest charms of the film is that it is "heady" enough to play in an art-house but "accessible enough for the multiplex. I enjoyed screenings in both settings during the theatrical run, with obviously rather different types of audiences. In both environments I observed people staying during the credits, even after the "SUPERTITLE's" at the end and even after Brian's "Love & Mercy" performance.
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« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2020, 02:04:45 PM »

I only watched the film once, and i loved the 60s scenes; Dano looked enough and acted enough like Brian to let me play along for awhile. I never could buy Cusak as 80's Brian, so i would basically toss that part of the movie.  For the most part, though, these big screen bios don't work for me because i spend 2 hours saying "but those aren't the real people". "Ray" was an exception because Jamie Fox had him DOWN - the looks, the mannerisms, the whole deal. Of course it helped that he got to wear sunglasses.
So i would rate the first half of the story a strong 5 - the studio recreations are amazing, and if you weren't a Beach Boys fan before seeing the movie, i would hope those scenes would at least encourage you to dig into the catalog.
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« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2020, 03:52:10 PM »

I know what you're saying. As with all art, it's subjective. It either works for you or it doesn't. I think I'm less interested in watching 2 hours worth of someone doing an impression of someone living (or dead) than I am a film trying to capture the subject's essence.
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« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2020, 05:29:29 PM »

Jason, I'm not sure if you have compiled all of those pictures and information together before here (on the unidentified scenes) but you are AWESOME for doing that here. I had never seen those screenshots and it really makes me want a special directors cut.

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Malick's THE THIN RED LINE

I freaking love the Thin Red Line and The Tree Of Life is one of my favorite movies ever. I heard that Malick spent decades compiling magazine clippings, ideas, photographs, probably poetry/literature into a binder that was meant to capture all of his ideas for the Tree Of Life. I would absolutely love to see that "binder" be turned into a book so fans of the movie could see all of his ideas for the film.

I was so psyched when I heard that Malick's cinematographer for The Tree Of Life (I believe) was snagged for Love and Mercy.

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I never could buy Cusak as 80's Brian, so i would basically toss that part of the movie.

This is tough for me because Brian was all over the place under Landy - so while Cusack isn't a spitting image of my perception of 80s Brian, I don't even know what 80s Brian could even be pegged as. We've seen video of him completely drugged up and can barely speak, then other videos he is somewhat fine, then other videos he is a space case. It had to have been hard for Cusack to juggle all of those different facades. So while I can see where you're coming from, I also think it was a tough role for any actor to take, and with that in mind I think Cusack did a pretty phenomenal job, imo.
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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2020, 05:07:54 PM »

Jason, I'm not sure if you have compiled all of those pictures and information together before here (on the unidentified scenes) but you are AWESOME for doing that here. I had never seen those screenshots and it really makes me want a special directors cut.

You're most welcome, I had fun doing it.

I freaking love the Thin Red Line and The Tree Of Life is one of my favorite movies ever. I heard that Malick spent decades compiling magazine clippings, ideas, photographs, probably poetry/literature into a binder that was meant to capture all of his ideas for the Tree Of Life. I would absolutely love to see that "binder" be turned into a book so fans of the movie could see all of his ideas for the film.

I was so psyched when I heard that Malick's cinematographer for The Tree Of Life (I believe) was snagged for Love and Mercy.

TTRL remains one of my favorite movies, even 22 years after its release. I remember the lead up to coming out (the return of Terry Malick, etc). That was during the infancy of the World Wide Web so there was scant information there. But in print, there were excellent long form articles in Variety and Esquire about the production, etc. I read those over and over. TTRL is second to L&M in times I've seen a movie in a theater (5 for TTRL, 14 for L&M).

Bill Pohlad being attached to L&M really intrigued me when I heard that. Because I knew his name as the producer of "Brokeback Mountain", "The Tree of Life", "Into the Wild" and "12 Years a Slave". I was a little nervous because he had only directed one feature but he came through on this project, on all counts.

The DP for L&M was Robert Yeoman who was mostly known (to me) for his work with Wes Anderson; "Bottle Rocket", "Rushmore", "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited", among others. Yeoman also was the DP for the excellent Gus Van Sant film "Drugstore Cowboy". So, I figured the film would have a wonderful aesthetic quality, which it most certainly does.
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