Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Despite the very best efforts and intentions of critics and writers -- Elsewhere among them -- the wayward genius of Harry Nilsson still goes past most people.
His work has been occasionally reissued (most recently a whopping 17 disc set of his complete RCA recordings) and certain albums are available cheaply, but still most people only know him as the Grammy-winning guy who had that hit Without You (written by Badfinger), the fellow who sang that lovely theme song to Midnight Cowboy (Everybody's Talkin' written by Fred Neil) and was hailed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the late Sixties.
Here at Elsewhere for years we have had articles acclaiming his erratic brilliance and drawn attention to various songs and albums, but we concede immediately the trouble with Harry is that he never really delivered one stone-cold classic album, although Nilsson Schmilsson came pretty close.
Nilsson's albums had no clear trajectory either -- he'd do an album of Randy Newman songs or standards if he wanted to -- and his highest profile after those hits written by others came when he notoriously got drunk with Lennon and was tossed out of an LA nightclub.
But the man was gifted, witty, wrote beautiful ballads or searingly rocking songs, and among his catalogue are such great one-offs as You're Breakin' My Heart ("so fuck you"). The 2006 documentary Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) eloquently makes the case for him, although is infused with sadness.
So here's a way for all the family to make the enjoyably discovery of Nilsson.
Just as every 5 to 8 year old can come to the Beatles through Yellow Submarine, so too you can get into Nilsson through the lovely animated film The Point, a fairytale he wrote . . . which has a point.
Conceived by Nilsson in 1970 as a story-cum-album, it was turned into a television animated feature by animator Fred Wolf with Dustin Hoffman narrating the part of the little boy Oblio's father in the intro.
When it was transferred to video (and now subsequently on DVD) that role was taken by Harry's other Beatle pal Ringo (the Tank Engine).
The fable follows the story of Oblio who lives in a village where evryone has a pointed head. Oblio's is round and, through the machinations of a wicked kid, Oblio and his faithful dog Arrow are exiled.
Throughout Nilsson punctuates the story with delightfully simple songs (Me and My Arrow a standout, try not singing it afterwards) and of course everything is resolved at the end.
But along the way The Point has a point or two to make.
Directed and animated by Wolf (who would move on to Teenage Mutant NInja Turtles among other things) The Point has a gentle pace, an engrossing storyline and lovely songs by the very great and late Harry Nilsson who died in '94.
And this new DVD edition comes with four new featurettes including a 5 minute Nilsson doco which is a distillation of that earlier bio-doco, and the story of how it came into being. There's a great anecdote about how Nlsson finally got a meeting with a Hollywood bigwig to make his pitch.
The Point -- the first animated feature film on an American national network apparently -- is a bit talky in places (and sometimes clearly influenced by characters from the more visually colourful Yellow Submarine) but for the most part is an absolute charmer of a film for kids of all ages above about six.
And if you get into Harry Nilsson through the wee ones, then that's fine too.
Though you might want to keep them away from the brutally frank You're Breakin' My Heart.