Last Sunday, HBO aired a two-part documentary on the life of Frank Sinatra, one of the most influential and respected entertainers of the 20th century. The film is the second collaboration between the network and filmmaker Alex Gibney, who just a week ago aired his Scientology documentary Going Clear, which premiered to rave reviews and the best ratings HBO had for a documentary in 10 years (my review on Going Clear). Gibney, whom which I’ve seen and reviewed three of his films in less than a month, directs this four-hour look into Sinatra’s life, but Gibney takes a different route into telling this story. The entire film is primarily archival footage from the Sinatra estate or news clippings from the multiple decades of Sinatra’s life and career. The film chronicles and tackles everything about Sinatra’s life, from his mob connections, to his relationships with actresses like Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, and so on. The four-hour running time may turn some folks off (its split into two parts, if you didn’t catch that before), Sinatra: All of Nothing at All is a magnificent and heartfelt tribute to the man himself, and one of the very best films of 2015 so far.
The interviews with Sinatra’s closest friends, family, and confidants come in the form of audio interviews, with the archival footage and photographs telling the story of Frank Sinatra, who was born into a poor Italian-American family in New Jersey, and make his way to being the leader of big band jazz, which led him to be one of the first American heart-throbs of its kind in the 40s. The film also sheds like on Sinatra’s charitable side of his life, in which he gave millions to the poor all around the world, and was even a trailblazer in civil rights before the movement really took off, primarily with helping Sammy Davis Jr. jump to stardom, which of course led to the Rat Pack, which consisted of Sinatra, Davis, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford.
Sinatra led a life that would be made for a feature film one day (Martin Scorsese has been developing a biopic for several years now), but for now, we will settle with Gibney’s brilliant documentary as being the quintessential Frank Sinatra film. I have gained more respect and recognition for the late performer, for all that he had to over come to get where he was for so many years, being an Italian-American in the early 20th century and all. That’s not to say that the man wasn’t perfect, because he had his reputation with being a womanizer for decades, and almost killed his career in the 50s for performing such immoral behavior. Gibney is able to transport the audience back in time so seamlessly with strictly using this fascinating and never before seen footage by the Sinatra family, and you get the feeling that you have gone back to the 50’s and 60’s. It’s rare for a documentary to replicate the feel of a certain era in time as well as Gibney has been able to pull off in this film.
One of my biggest fears going into this film was knowing that the talking head interviews would be strictly audio interviews, and that you wouldn’t be able to recognize the names of the voices being heard. Gibney is well aware of this, and whenever somebody like Nancy or Tina Sinatra is speaking, their name pops up almost every time, and you’re never lost while hearing these interviews about the story of Frank Sinatra. Gibney has also been able to uncover lost interviews with the late entertainer that helps narrate the story from time to time, since Sinatra never wrote a memoir about his life or anything like that. The interviews that Gibney found are some of the few recordings of Sinatra telling the story of his life, and you can’t take your eyes or your attention away from the film when watching just by how fascinating and memorable this life that Frank had.
Sinatra: All of Nothing at All aired on HBO last Sunday night, and is regularly airing on the network for the foreseeable future (you can watch it on HBO GO or Now, or on Demand) and I highly recommend that you check out this documentary. It’s not only one of the best music documentaries in recent memory, but one of the best show business documentaries that I’ve seen in quite some time. This is up there with Martin Scorsese’s masterful George Harrison documentary that he made for the network a few years back, and I hope that Sinatra: All of Nothing at All gets a similar reception by both critics and music buffs alike.