I must put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to wax lyrical about a wonderful Frank Sinatra documentary I have just watched on the tele, “All Or Nothing At All”. What with James Kaplan’s magnificent, definitive two-volume 1,800 page biography and now this magical biographical documentary, my addiction to Frank has been powerfully fed and fuelled and, in the reading and the watching, I felt as if I was living very much in Frank’s ‘time’, in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, as if I was a fly on the wall, watching his life go by.
This approximately 4-hour documentary biog of Frank is a ‘must’ for all fans of Sinatra and of the music and culture of the time. Heartfelt contributions from Terry Teachout! Yes, Kaplan’s biography is definitive but the television documentary adds to our understanding, to our grasp of the emotions, the documentary complements the book(s), it allows us to watch Frank perform, eg his ‘retirement’ concert in 1971, allows us to hear the ‘players’ in Frank’s life speaking, Lauren Bacall, Mia Farrow, Nelson Riddle, Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Snr., Nancy Jr., Frank Jr., et al. Frank is, yes, ‘The Voice’, no one tells the stories like Frank tells the stories, but he is also a visual gift, the icing on the cake is Frank’s performing, watching the instrument that is Frank, the percussive moves of his fingers, the shoulders, the feet, the tiniest of moves, the ripples of the music as they visibly vibrate through Frank’s body, that is part of the magic of Sinatra. The aura. The archived interviews, the interspersing throughout the documentary of an intimate interview, Walter Kronkite interviewing Frank, it’s all mesmerizing.
We all know that Frank was no saint, he had a lot of character flaws but, as a singer, a performer, a showman/entertainer, he had no equal. Frank was special and though I am tempted sometimes to compartmentalize the different facets of Frank’s life, to keep the flaws separate from the music, I can’t, one can’t, because Frank’s experiences, his pain, his anguish, his flaws, all of it informs his music, it’s all in there. A clear example of that is listening to “I’m A Fool To Want You” when looking at Frank with Ava Gardner. I love the Charlton Heston quote along the lines of “every (Sinatra) song is, in essence, a 4-minute movie”. A brilliant observation, so perfectly worded!
If you love Sinatra and haven’t read James Kaplan’s biography, you must, and I heartily recommend that you watch this terrific, absorbing HBO documentary.