Saturday, July 14, 2007
Nilsson Schmilsson: Part Four
The 1974 album on which Nilsson "blew his voice out."
A Chat With John Scheinfeld: Pussy Cats (click here for part three)
Since you have a reputation from your films, and since you've worked with people like Van Dyke Parks before, was it a natural progression to get them to participate?
Yes, because oftentimes when we call they already know us. And not just us, I think Van Dyke would've done it anyway, for Harry. But there were some people we got, like Diane, Harry's second wife. She didn't know us from Adam, and she didn't want to do it. It took me three and a half months of trying to charm her on the phone.
And she needs to be in there.
She needs to be in there. And she wasn't until near the end.
Nilsson and Lennon shooting pool-French style!
Was her son involved before she was?
Yes, she heard from him that it was a good experience, but she still wasn't ready
to do it. Then after the interview when she saw how respectfully she was treated,
she started to send us photos and all this cool, rare stuff, which filled in some
gaps. There's the photo where Harry disappears from their life, and we didn't
have a picture of the three of them together until she sent it to us. So yeah, I
think there is a degree to which a lot of these people know us from one project
or another, or from their managers, agents, or publicists. That's the value of having a track record. You're not just somebody doing something, you're somebody whose work they respect, so they decide, 'Okay, I'll go ahead and do that for them.'
Had you interviewed Yoko Ono before?
No, in fact this is where we met Yoko.
I would assume she segued from one [project] to the other,
because you couldn't do a Lennon film without her participation.
Absolutely not. I first met her doing Harry, and she has approval over how the interview segments are used-she wants to see the context in which they are used. So, when we cut her sequences together in Harry, we sent them to her, and she
said, 'Oh, this is very good, thank you.' Armed with that, we then approached her attorneys about doing The US vs. John Lennon, and it took almost a year of charming, cajoling, calling back-everything-to where we finally got the meeting with Yoko. David had the meeting, and she had a good feeling about him, and she operates very much from that, and so we made a deal. But I'll tell you, having a deal wasn't enough, because she's so much a target of the media and so reviled, and she's wary. She's very wary. So, we did three interviews with her for the film at three different times. The first one was really good, but it wasn't until she saw our rough cut, until she saw that we did exactly what we promised we were gonna do, that
she opened up, and the second two interviews were unbelievably good, and I think
if and when you see the film, you will see a Yoko Ono you've never seen before. She's relaxed, she's playful, she's smart, she's emotional, she's articulate, and she's not this sort of inscrutable dragon lady the press makes her out to be most times.
In terms of timing, if you had made this film [Harry Nilsson] a few years before, would you have been interested in speaking to George Harrison? I get the impression he was a friend, but not a great friend the way John Lennon and Ringo Starr were, yet Harrison provides that great bit at the end. [A choice quote.]
I know he didn't do many interviews.
He didn't, but we would have put in a request. We did put in a request with his wife, Olivia, to see if she would speak for George. She said, 'I'd love to-I loved Harry-but I didn't know him well enough. I couldn't really do that.' But it was interesting.
He was a better friend of George's than I thought. That was something I learned.
At Una's house, I went through drawers and drawers of cassettes. Harry taped everything. There were tapes sent between him and George over the years. We
don't have this in the movie, but George was the first one to meet Harry. George
was here in the spring of '67, staying in the house on Blue Jay Way that he wrote about for Magical Mystery Tour, and Brian Epstein wanted to sign Harry to NEMS.
I saw that in the press notes. It definitely caught my attention.
And he thought the way you get a young artist is you impress them, you
have them meet a Beatle, so George was staying at the house, and it was
arranged that Harry would come, so he came over, met George, and they became friendly... I think they stayed friends, but yes, not as close as the other two.
And not as much of a 'party' friend. I guess that was one of the major differences.
Yes, George wasn't a partier, and Harry wasn't a spiritual guy, so that was part of the thing, but they had great admiration [for each other]. There's a cassette I found that George sent-his first album in some years was Somewhere In England-and he sent the first version to Harry, and said, 'What do you think?' I don't know what Harry thought, but it was sitting there in his collection. I thought that was interesting.
Did you try to interview Ringo?
Yes, numerous times.
He's really a presence in the film, so I didn't even notice actually,
until later, that he wasn't there...
Good, I'm so glad.
You include footage of the wedding-that's a big deal, to be Harry's best man-
but afterwards I thought, he must not have been interviewed.
We tried multiple times-we tried through his lawyer, his publicist, his sister"n-law, who runs his production company, and Mark Hudson, who's Ringo's producer now-
we tried every which way. And everyone went to bat for us, everybody tried on our behalf, but... And we finally thought, 'Let's let him see the movie,' so we sent him
a rough cut, and he watched it. We heard back that he really enjoyed it, and thought we 'got' Harry, but some things were missing, and I thought, 'Yes-like you!' But
what came back, what he said to us is, 'I won't talk about George, John, or Harry
in public-it's too emotional. It's in my heart, and that's where it's gonna stay.'
I wondered about that, because he's lost a lot of people over the years,
including Keith Moon, who's in the film. It occured to me that some of
his best friends from the 1960s and 1970s aren't here anymore...
He gave us great cooperation. We got photos, the excerpt from Son of Dracula...
That was bizarre.
That's not been seen since it was in a theater in Atlanta in 1974. There is a crappy bootleg version. You can buy it on eBay for about $16, but you can barely make out the images on some of them. It's actually a different cut, but the master film was in Ringo's vault in England, and as soon as we requested it, he was like, 'Absolutely.' We paid for the transfer, but we got it, and he said, 'Use whatever you want.'
Nobody seems to think that highly of it-but look who's in it.
That's great, but I do have to say that when Bruce Grakal, who is still Ringo's attorney, and he was Harry's attorney-he's the one who says that it's one of
the worst movies ever made. I would say to you: he's not exaggerating.
Next: His Own Man
Reminder: Who Is Harry Nilsson makes its Hollywood premiere tonight at the
Egyptian Theatre as part of the Mods and Rockers Film Festival. Director John Scheinfeld will be in attendance along with Danny Hutton, Micky Dolenz, and
Jimmy Webb. Images from The Heat Warps, Google Images, I Heard the News Today (Ole Christiansen credited for Ono pic), and Cinema Without Borders.