You know the songs — Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away… I did it myyy wayyyy… — but do you know the man behind them?
For even the most dedicated Frank Sinatra fan, HBO is hoping to show you something new about the American music icon. At 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, the network will air “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,” an in-depth look at Sinatra’s career and personal life. From his childhood in New Jersey to his “retirement concert” in Los Angeles, the two-part, four-hour special follows a man on the rise “up-close and personal.”
The documentary is centered on that 1971 concert in Los Angeles, where Sinatra played 11 songs for the audience at the Ahmanson Theatre. Each song is used to represent a chapter in Sinatra’s life, from his romances with Ava Gardner and Lauren Bacall to his connections with mob figures and presidents.
Along with never-before-seen footage from that concert, we see and hear Sinatra in unguarded moments, when his stage presence is set aside to remind us that he was a walking, talking, feeling human being.
“If I’m not good in the Paramount Theater under these circumstances, I’m dead,” he says in one scene. “Jesus, I was nervous.” (More early soundbites available over at NPR.)
His estate, including his two children, agreed to participate in the making of the film. Their backing probably made the documentary’s wide range of contributors possible. There are appearances from Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, and even Sinatra’s first wife, Nancy.
The documentary was made as a tribute to Sinatra for his 100th birthday in December. He died 1998 at age 82.
“I wanted to think about Sinatra not just as the guy who had a lot of great songs but as the Great Gatsby,” filmmaker Alex Gibney told the Los Angeles Times.
Gibney has made films on everything from taxi drivers in Afghanistan to political scandals in New York, but he’s most recently been in the spotlight for “Going Clear,” the documentary about the Church of Scientology that HBO released last month. Since its debut in January, the reviews have been spectacular, and the strong backlash from the church has only added to the hype.
It’s a stretch to compare Sinatra to a controversial church, but both story lines have found new audiences through Gibney and HBO. Sinatra’s, we bet, will be a little less contested.
“The word ‘icon’ is much overused,” said Terry Teachout, a critic in the film. “But if it applies to anybody in American popular culture, it is Frank Sinatra.”