The documentary valiantly (and not entirely successful) attempts to contextualize Tiny Tim, trying to explain why he has reached such stratospheric heights, moving from the outskirts straight into the heart of the mainstream, where he not only sold the Royal Albert Hall, but performed for 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. How did a guy with a ukulele, a falsetto voice and a cheerful, contrived 19th century music hall character do?
Von Sydow rounded up a host of interview topics, from family members and collaborators to filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and DA Pennebaker, all of whom remember the performer’s meteoric rise (and downfall equally dazzling). The film is interspersed with excerpts from the sometimes tormented diary of Tiny Tim (voiced sensitively by “Weird Al” Yankovic), where the child of a Russian Jewish father and a Lebanese-Christian mother – who dumped him out of home as a teenager – obsessively worries about sin, Jesus, Satan and his goals for himself. His ambition was titanic and visionary: “I will be a star,” he told his newspaper. Justin Martell, who wrote the 2016 biography, Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim, is the documentary’s main guide, introducing us to every event: his troubled childhood, his love for Bing Crosby, his debut as a street artist, and his novelty appeal to the burgeoning folk-house scene of the coffee club. Greenwich Village.
How did he develop his style? It was a real “act” in the old sense of the term. It was a return to vaudeville, to the English 19th century music hall. (Trav SD .., author of No applause, just throw in the money: the book that made Vaudeville famous, calls Tiny Tim “the Saint Saint of the neo-vaudeville movement”). Tiny Tim created a character, then lived it 24/7: he wore big square blazers, wide ties and crawled on stage with a small bag in one hand, a ukulele under his arm. . When he sent kisses to the audience, the blown kisses seem affected, like he’s a bored monarch. Success, when it came, was gratifying for his selfish part, and yet didn’t seem to make a difference in how he felt about life. Diary entry: “I am the biggest star in the land. O blessed Lord. My soul is crying out for help.” He’s referred to as “nice” and “vulnerable,” but some of the stories told here – of a sexual phone call with a 14-year-old girl and his first conversation with his third and last wife (before they met he asked her bluntly over the phone, “Are you attractive? Are you thin?” and then looked disappointed when they met in person) tells another story, not really explored.
The rule-breaking era he rose into was central to his rise – could it have happened at some other time? Tiny Tim is unimaginable without the surrounding world of “Happenings” and the flower children dancing in the streets of Haight-Ashbury. “Tiny Tim: King for a Day” tries to wrap it all together, but footage of soldiers in Vietnam does little to explain why millions of people have fallen in love with a childish man singing “Good Ship Lollipop”. He was often treated like a “freak” (in fact, his first regular gig was at what was then called a “freak show” in Times Square): people would just laugh and laugh. Tiny Tim’s sexual ambiguity (his third wife, interviewed for the film, said she thought he was “half-gay”) had something to do with his notoriety, especially at the start, although The claim that he was “the first androgynous rock ‘n roll star” is debatable to the point of being ridiculous. Either way, his eccentricity was cathartic for those who were drawn to him. John Lennon loved him Bob Dylan wanted to make a movie with him DA Pennebaker, filmmaker and frequent collaborator of Dylan, was involved in the project Nothing came of it, but the interest speaks volumes.