Beyond the Sea (8/10)

by Tony Medley

I remember Bobby Darinís career from start to finish. After his first hit, Splish Splash (1958), I thought he was another Tommy Sands type guy, a one hit rock Ďní roll wonder. But then came Mack the Knife and I thought, ďOh, oh; hereís a guy to be taken seriously.Ē

Coming in at around two hours, this is a terrific musical. We hear most of Darinís songs, although I was disappointed we didnít hear Clementine. I have always thought that Clementine epitomized Darinís great talent. Who else could have a hit from such a traditional folk song? Like Mack the Knife, what made it exceptional was the arrangement. I also missed hearing Things (1962) which, for my money, was the best song he wrote. We actually donít learn much at all about his writing.

In addition to minimizing his composing, the film does not mention who did Darinís arranging, whether it was Darin himself or someone else. And it doesnít go into the derivation of the songs he chose. Mack the Knife was the song that made Darin a star. But we learn nothing about how he chose it, why he chose it, or who did the arranging. Itís not as if Darin introduced a new song. Berthold Brecht wrote the music and Kurt Weill the original lyrics as The Theme for The Threepenny Opera in 1928. After Weillís 1950 death, American composer Marc Blitzstein translated Threepenny Opera into the version that played off-Broadway for seven years and made Mack the Knife immensely popular. It wasnít until Louis ďSatchmoĒ Armstrong recorded it in 1955 that it became a well known song throughout the world. But it was Darin who made it a runaway hit. Although Darin recorded it December of 1958, it wasnít released until August of 1959 when it went to number 1 and remained there for 9 weeks. It was Darinís only number 1 song. But you wonít learn any of this from the movie, and moreís the pity.

More time should have been given to Ď50s record producer Ahmet Ertegun (Tayfun Bademsoy) because after the 20 year old Darin wrote Splish Splash (in 12 minutes!), neither Herb Abramason nor Jerry Wexler of Darinís record label, Atlantic Records, thought enough of it to give him a recording session. Darin went to Ertegun who liked it enough to give him half a session to record it in April of 1958. The result was Darinís first million seller. Ertegun was worth much more to Darinís career than the small scenes he gets.

This is not a linear movie and itís much better for it. Time frames and characters are juxtaposed so that itís more like a fantasy. Mature Bobby interfaces with Little Bobby (William Ullrich) throughout the film. Ullrich is good beyond his 11 years.

Darinís life was not easy. He had a heart problem throughout his short life and had a mixed up relationship with his mother that seriously affected his later life. Both of these are handled with sensitivity.

This is a self-centered, albeit auteur, performance by Kevin Spacey, who wrote, produced, directed, and starred. For me the major weakness of the film is that Spacey did not lip sync to Darinís voice. The voice we hear is Spaceyís. While itís not a bad voice, and while he sounds a lot like Darin, heís not Bobby Darin. If Larry Parks could lip sync Al Jolson in The Jolson Story (1946), and Jamie Foxx could lip sync Ray Charles in Ray this year, surely Spacey should have had enough respect for Darin to use his voice. After all, this isnít the life story of a mediocrity; itís Bobby Darin! I want to hear the real thing. But Spacey apparently figured that he was putting so much into this, he might as well get a singing career out of it as well, so Bobbyís voice was dumped. Spacey even participates in all the dance numbers. Is a biopic of Fred Astaire next?

I also did not care for Kate Bosworthís performance as Darinís wife, actress Sandra Dee. Dee was cute; Bosworth is much harder looking. And Bosworth is yet another graduate of the Sean Penn school of acting because when she cries she is dry-eyed which makes her wailing ludicrous.

Finally, Darin is presented as so saintly he could be assumed bodily into heaven without benefit of death. There is no mention of his relationship with singer Connie Francis. The story Iíve always heard is that he wanted to marry Connie, who was the love of his life, but didnít have the guts to stand up to her father, who opposed the marriage.

The film whitewashes Darinís brutal termination of his marriage in 1967. Dee told People Magazine in 1991, "He just woke up one morning and didn't want to be married anymore. It ended with a suddenness I still can't explain." The film closes with a disclaimer that seems to imply that many of the characters covered in the film might not agree with the way they are represented. It also said that Dee loves Darin to this day, a dubious premise at best. From what Iíve always heard, the flawless, apparently conceived without the stain of Original Sin Bobby Darin we see in this film never existed.

But maybe the dumbest part of this movie is near the end when Bobbyís career is in the toilet. Heís talking with Dee and she says, ďPeople hear what they see.Ē Flash! Bobby jumps up. Itís an old Hollywood moment! What did you say? What? What did you just say? No, not that! ďPeople hear what they see?Ē Thatís it! Bobby runs to his advisers and says that Sandra has found the solution to his problem. Whatís that, Bobby? ďPeople hear what they see! People hear what they see!Ē With this wisdom as his guide Bobby goes back to night club singing in Las Vegas. ďPeople hear what they see?Ē If thatís not meaningless nonsense, I donít know what is.

I enjoyed the movie but wish that it had used Bobby Darinís voice, that someone else had been cast as Sandra Dee, that we had been given more information about the music Darin created, and that Darin had been presented with at least a few warts.

December 15, 2004

The End