Sinatra: All or Nothing at All full movie review - Larger than life but still captured within reality
Part of the reason Frank Sinatra is an American icon, embedded in American pop culture, is because he was the pioneer for a lot of celebrity actions and activities we now see as commonplace or even conventional.
For one, Sinatra was one of the first singers with an enormous fanbase, especially with young teen girls, who would croon over him like he'd croon over the microphone for one of his songs. In addition, Sinatra was a persistent social activist, a tabloid figure following his relationship with actress Ava Gardner, a singer turned movie star, a figure the public eye intensely watched and judged based on his private actions, and a mob-connected individual.
All of these attributes alone are chronicled in the first two hours of Alex Gibney's four hour documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, which airs over the course of Easter weekend on HBO. Gibney has effectively painted a grandiose film that, in two hours, meticulously details Sinatra's childhood and rise to fame, while painting the portrait of a man who's fame and wealth plummeted in one of the first cases of worldwide stardom in the United States.
Sinatra was born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey to a mother who acted as the neighborhood caregiver, taking in and helping raise children from all over the neighborhood. Sinatra began to enjoy the sound and culture of music, saving enough money to buy a microphone at a young age so he wouldn't have to project and embrace ridicule for using a megaphone, and went on to be a part of the "Hoboken Four," a group that would perform at variety shows before entertaining local nightclubs.
Eventually, however, Sinatra broke from the Hoboken Four and embraced a solo career as a crooner, singing glacially paced tunes that showed that songs could be sung in a slow manner and still be viewed as effective ballads. In just over a year, Sinatra had become a hit with teen girls, who started fan clubs expressing support for the singer. He then gravitated to being a huge success amongst those of all ages. One music critic states that while films birthed celebrities, Depression-era America couldn't afford movie tickets and resorted to radio for free entertainment, which is how most became acquainted with Sinatra's sound and style. While resting comfortably on top of the world, Sinatra eventually began to falter due to heavy drinking and his relationship with movie star Ava Gardner, which was heavily documented right before the public eye. This is the beginning of what looks to be an immense downfall if it wasn't for managerial interference and Sinatra's determination to get back on track.
Furthermore, following a sharp decline in popularity, Sinatra worked to reinvent his image for the public. The 1950's saw individual wealth grow astronomically, with teenagers finally being able to "afford their own subculture," as one social critic brilliantly puts it, and people gaining the expendable income to use for entertainment like movies and records. It was then that Sinatra saw a rebirth of interest and appeal that was never seen before; not only did Sinatra create the epitome of a global superstar, but he also showed one of the most incredible comebacks in showbiz history.
Inevitably, Sinatra faced his downfall in the late 1960's, with slumping album sales, even his renowned concept works, and, by that time, singers would either get older and fade out or make a fool of themselves. Sinatra clearly didn't have his heart in his work anymore, and following a retirement concert in 1971 where he played eleven defining songs of his life and career, stepped off the stage and proceeded to move on, closing one of music's most fascinating and profound chapters.
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All does a beautiful job at cleanly showing this history in a manner that's unambiguous and straight-forward. Gibney structures the film nicely, infusing Sinatra's personality into the film seamlessly and leaving the weight on him and numerous other primary accounts of his fame to tell his story. Even at four hours, cannot expand on every idea and notion Sinatra was about. Gibney never gets lost in the glamor, keeping things grounded in humanity and development and, in turn, undoubtedly creates one of the year's strongest documentaries.
NOTE: This review is heavily edited; go to the Critic Reviews section and find my name to read the more elaborate and detailed one.