Took advantage of my day off from work to check out this year’s online edition of DOC NYC. As expected, the festival is offering a wide variety of socially/politically relevant documentaries (including I Am Greta, 76 Days, and MLK/FBI), but I was in the mood for something a bit more... frivolous. I decided to go with Tiny Tim: King for a Day, which examines the rise and fall of an unlikely—and, tragically, largely forgotten—musical icon.
These days, Tiny Tim is probably best known for his contributions to the soundtracks of SpongeBob SquarePants (“Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight”) and James Wan’s Insidious (“Tiptoe Through the Tulips”), but at the height of his career, he was considered an equal by such esteemed artists as Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Indeed, his long hair, effeminate demeanor, and falsetto singing voice practically epitomized the counterculture of the 1960s; one of the film’s talking heads even argues that his androgynous persona paved the way for David Bowie and Prince.
Director Johan von Sydow’s cinematic style is just as charmingly unconventional as his subject; he utilizes rough, expressionistic animation and excerpts from Tiny Tim’s own personal journals (most of which are addressed to God and Jesus) to fill in the gaps between the available archival footage, creating a thoroughly captivating, warts-and-all portrait of a tortured genius. We experience Tiny’s struggles with mental illness, gender identity, and sexuality; we learn about how the very quirkiness that made him famous also contributed to his eventual downfall—"circus freaks," after all, have relatively short shelf lives.
The result is every bit as thematically compelling and emotionally gripping as any fictionalized celebrity biopic you care to name (Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, et cetera). Whether you’re a longtime fan or a total neophyte, Tiny Tim: King for a Day is well worth discovering.