Tiny Tim: King For a Day


The life of Tiny Tim wasn’t an easy one.

(2020) Music Documentary (Juno) Herbert “Tiny Tim” Khaury, Weird Al Yankovic, Justin A. Martell, Susan Khaury-Wellman, Johnny Pineapple, Richard Perry, Wavy Gravy, Bernie Stein, Eddie Rabin, Ron DeBlasio, Bobby Gonzalves, George Schlatter, Jonas Nekas, Artie Butler, Milt Friedwald, Martin Sharp, Harvey Mann, Tulip Stewart. Directed by Johan van Sydow

Tiny Tim exists, for the most part, in the national zeitgeist as an oddity of the 1960s, dismissed as a one-trick pony with his elfin smile, ukulele and falsetto vocals. He would die in 1995, mostly forgotten, playing in restaurants, circuses and middle school auditoriums, a sad figure living on the limelight that had long since faded away.

Stardom is a potent, addicting thing and Tiny Tim, bourn Herbert Butros Khaury, was a junkie. The son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father – an almost unheard-of combination back then and even so still today. His parents really didn’t know what to make of him, and were generally unsupportive of his ambitions and even when he had become a big star, were less than enthusiastic about his career choice.

This documentary, which debuted at the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival and is currently playing at the Florida Film Festival, features a good deal of archival footage of Tim’s television performances on the Tonight Show, Dick Cavett, Ed Sullivan and the like. At the height of his fame, he was a national icon who was something of a symbol of the flower power movement but a change in management put his career in the hands of those who would, in the words of his friend Johnny Pineapple, “send him out anywhere if it put a dollar in their pocket.” His career took a nosedive and as quickly as he he became a household name, he declined into obscurity.

The documentary utilizes excerpts from Tim’s diaries (read by Weird Al Yankovic, himself fairly conversant with the fickle finger of fame) which hints at a darkness in the performer’s soul. Apparently a very religious person (he lamented at one point that he felt as “a lost soul in Hell, crying out for help”) with some severe self-image issues as well as a pretty nasty case of depression, he kept his gentle smile and childlike demeanor showing even to the very end. There is also some effective black and white animated sequences.

The overall tone is bittersweet. I don’t know if you could term his life, as Todd Rundgren coined it, “the ever-popular tortured artist effect” but there’s no doubt that his life had more than his share of pain and suffering. If there’s a silver lining here, it does make you re-examine your attitude towards artists who might be outsiders, those whose music might be a bit different. Maybe their music isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s okay, but it should be remembered that every artists, regardless of who they are, put themselves out there and that is something to be respected, not ridiculed. I have to admit that my attitude towards Tiny Tim changed after watching this, and so did my attitude towards people like William Hung and others who may be chasing fame, but even if they don’t achieve it for long, should be treated with compassion rather than derision.

REASONS TO SEE: Truly affecting at times.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fairly typical music doc.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some discussions of child abuse.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tiny Tim’s wedding broadcast on The Tonight Show remains the second largest American television audience of all time as of this writing.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema (through April 18)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zappa
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

Newman


Rage against the machine.

Rage against the machine.

(2015) Documentary (Sunset) Joe Newman, Johnny Carson, Evan Soules, Ralph Hartwell, Milton Everett, Garland Robinette, Donald Quigg, Bobby Matherne, John Flannery, Jim Jordan, Jon Fox. Directed by Jon Fox

Florida Film Festival 2016

Most people won’t know the name of Joseph Newman, but maybe they should. At a time where renewable sources of energy are hard to come by, he invented a machine that put out more energy than it took in. For the science community, endorsements were hard to come by; few reputable scientists were willing to stake their reputation on a machine that apparently broke the second law of thermodynamics.

Newman went to get a patent on his invention, but ended up entering into a protracted fight with the United States Patent Office, which denied him his patent. The legal battle would eventually cost him his family, his home and his reputation.

Documentary filmmaker Jon Fox spent 15 years putting together the footage that make up this film, ranging from archival news reports, interviews as well as more current footage, including some fairly impressive impressionist-like animation. The footage is blended together well.

There are people who swear that this machine would have changed the world as we know it, offering low cost energy available on a global scale. Others state that there had to be some sort of fraud going on, a hoax perpetrated for scientific rubes as it were. The fact that Newman lived in Mississippi brought out some ingrained prejudices about the respect others have for Southern intellects.

Like many documentaries, there are a lot of interviews with people who worked with Newman or knew him. As with most documentaries that utilize interviews, there is really no way to make them any more interesting than they are. The guys being interviewed for the most part are very intelligent guys, but they’re certainly not very charismatic, so be forewarned.

That is not to say that every interview here isn’t worth your while. Newman himself is interviewed after years of being reclusive and disillusioned and in all honesty, he seems very much a changed man – paranoid, bitter and contentious. While given what happened to him it’s not hard to understand why, he is in many ways a victim of his own hubris. He was a boxer early on in his life and that pugilistic attitude that developed remained with him until he passed away. Sadly, the secret of his machine, which he promoted to the end of his days, may never be realized.

Fox, who near the end of the film bears the brunt of Newman’s rage, is even-handed in his dealing with the mercurial Newman. He certainly avails a certain amount of sympathy for the man’s situation and makes no bones about where he stands vis a vis the conduct of the American government towards one of its own citizens which was absolutely deplorable. The truth is that no scientist was ever able to prove that Newman’s machine was a hoax, or that it didn’t do what he claimed it did. Every test it underwent in the light of day was successful (the tests that weren’t were conducted by those who had a stake in proving that the machine was a fake and took place behind closed doors). It seems to me that the world lost out on a device that would have been transformative.

Newman’s fight was an uphill battle to say the least, and perfectly illustrates how the deck is rigged against the little guy with a big idea to make it successful. While there’s no conclusive evidence that the power companies colluded against Newman, it is extremely likely that they did. Whether Newman’s device would have revolutionized the way we receive energy is a matter of conjecture; we’ll truly never know.

REASONS TO GO: A real life David vs. Goliath story. Fascinating watching the machine in action.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: Occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Newman’s interview with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show lasted sixteen minutes, which is considered to be the longest interview the legendary host ever did with a non-celebrity guest.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: SlingShot
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Huntsman: Winter’s War