Overview: The HBO Entertainment documentary SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL will debut SUNDAY, APRIL 5 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) and MONDAY, APRIL 6 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO. Directed by Alex Gibney (HBO’s “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” and “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown”), the two-night, four-hour presentation marks the 100th year since the iconic entertainer’s birth.
SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL is an up-close and personal examination of the life, music and career of the legendary entertainer. Told in his own words from hours of archived interviews, along with commentary from those closest to him, the documentary weaves the music and images from Sinatra’s life together with rarely seen footage of Sinatra’s famous 1971 “Retirement Concert” in Los Angeles. The film’s narrative is shaped by Sinatra’s song choices for that concert, which Gibney interprets as the singer’s personal guide through his own life.
Focusing on Sinatra’s first 60 years – beginning with his birth in Hoboken, New Jersey and meteoric rise in his 20s – and drawing on comments from friends and family, as well as never-before-seen footage from home movies and concert performances, this unprecedented tribute to the beloved showman follows Sinatra’s growth from roadhouse performer to global singing sensation. With the participation of the Frank Sinatra Estate, family members and archivists, SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL is an intimate portrait of the singer, actor, father, husband and philanthropist.
Expectations: It is going to take me a while to sit through all four hours of this documentary. At that length, however, I suspect this to be the definitive chronicle of Frank Sinatra and his career. I am of the age to remember my father’s 33 1/3 albums playing Sinatra tunes and the entertainer’s TV appearances. It will be nice to fill in the gaps in his life story, but I wish it wasn’t so long a documentary event.
Gut Reaction: This documentary is wonderful and quite an opus. The framing that holds this work together is the “Retirement Concert” in 1971 which ushered in a short-lived retirement for the entertainer. Alex Gibney uses a great device here to title each segment of this two-part documentary from the songs in his set for that memorable concert. For example, the song “All or Nothing At All” shows his early life of him and his family making the best of what they had through the 1920’s and ‘30’s. It was the ‘give it all you got or go home’ attitude that propelled him. “Nancy With A Laughing Face” announces the period of his life when all was good and productive. He had a daughter Nancy Jr. with his wife, Nancy and he found himself alongside famous bands like Tommy Dorsey’s and entertainers like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Darker, tougher moments in his life and career are bookmarked by “I’ll Never Smile Again.”
The construct of the entire work was well done by Gibney. He had access to archival footage and audio tapes that no one else had their hands on due to the cooperation of the Frank Sinatra Estate. There is plenty of footage galore. In fact, instead of having the notable voices commenting on Sinatra doing those on screen testimonials and remembrances they are never seen. Their names appear onscreen so we know who we are hearing from, but no interviews were filmed and intercut, which is refreshing. To supplement Sinatra footage then was tons of clips full of historical and cultural references to complete the story.
Frank Sinatra was one exciting, classy yet tough-as-nails kind of guy. It was interesting to see his life replayed and to see and hear Sinatra himself talk about his life. Through the course of his life via different interviews, like with Walter Cronkite, he ended up telling his own life story. To hear that juxtaposed with iconic songs like “My Way” a great experience. I guess it had to be four hours long to capture it all. I’m glad for HBOGo so I could watch it in snippets.
In Conclusion: To conclude I have two points to express. One is about the documentarian responsible for SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL, Alex Gibney. I appreciated this documentary event but a bit puzzled on the construct of Gibney’s films as a whole. GOING CLEAR was so much information contained in one two-hour mash of information and this biography sprawled over four hours in two parts. Couldn’t the scrutiny of Scientology been broken down in two parts and had this bio been shorter? It just seemed odd choices to me.
The other point surfaced while watching this documentary and relates to HBO’s demographics. Does the right age group who appreciates Frank Sinatra even watch HBO? Next month comes the Kurt Cobain documentary and the same question could be asked about it as well. You are reaching both age brackets with films about both entertainers whose styles were decades apart?
Apparently the Sinatra outing did quite well with Part I clocking a total of 2.7 million viewers and Part II seeing 2.2 million. It seems Frank Sinatra is still giving it his all. SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL still airs across HBO’s channels and on HBOGo/HBONow. Catch this one-of- a-kind documentary about the one-of-a-kind entertainer!