The 1960s were full of tormented musical geniuses, but The Beach Boys’ singer/songwriter Brian Wilson is hardly the most glorified. I guess quietly going nuts and surviving until a late-life comeback just isn’t as cinematic as going out in a young and beautiful blaze of glory like Janis, Jimi, or Jim.
Yet “Brian Wilson: Songwriter,” rather surprisingly for a music doc these days, chooses to focus less on Wilson’s personal tragedy — the stories of substance abuse and mental breakdown — in favor of looking at his craft and skills as a producer, composer, and bandleader. There are plenty of insiders on hand to reminisce, including former Beach Boys Bruce Johnston and David Marks, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Hal Blaine from legendary session musician backing band The Wrecking Crew, manager Fred Vail, and Wilson’s close friend Danny Hutton from Three Dog Night. The doc is strong on exploring Wilson’s influences — Chuck Berry, The Four Freshmen, Phil Spector — and his “modular” style of building compositions like “Good Vibrations.” Missing however is the man himself, who we hear only in the occasional studio rehearsal tape.