To watch the 2015 biopic, Love & Mercy, from the perspective of a discerning authority of the work of Brian Wilson is to revel in the occasion to be a fly on the wall of the recording studio during the production of the landmark album, Pet Sounds.
To watch it from perspective of a loyal devotee of the life of Brian Wilson is to endure his personal struggles and eventual salvation thanks in part to the efforts of his eventual wife, Melinda Ledbetter.
To watch it from the perspective of a generalist fan of the sunny heyday of The Beach Boys is to possibly be dissatisfied at the omission of the themes more commonplace in traditional docudramas about musicians.
An audience's ability to construe meaning from a biopic is affected by their level of knowledge of the subject, which is dictated by how thoroughly they have engaged texts peripheral to it. Juggling these varied audience expectations is made even more challenging when tackling a subject whose personal narrative is so embedded into the culture. While Brian Wilson may not be a household name, his group, which was given the moniker "America's Band," certainly is.
In crafting Love & Mercy, director Bill Pohlad weaved a tapestry of allusions, quotations and translations of a vast anthology of media regarding Wilson and The Beach Boys, and as a result placed it among those projects that preceded his own. In doing so, he unconsciously generated a hierarchy among many of those preexistent texts. Constructed utilizing French critic Gerard Genette's theory of "transtextuality," this video aims to illustrate how Pohlad's treatment of many of his sources assigned status to his film's surrounding texts. Those most prominently placed alongside Love & Mercy are the 2000 television mini-series, The Beach Boys: An American Family directed by Jeff Bleckner; The Pet Sounds Sessions Box Set; and the 1995 documentary, Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times directed by Don Was.
A transtextual reading of Love & Mercy reveals that Pohlad's level of deference was greater for primary sources than for secondary sources. The most interesting relationship exposed via this video lies between Pohlad's and Was' films. Pohlad's adaptation of interviews acquired by Was leave no room for Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times in the diegesis of Love & Mercy. Therein lies the title of this production, for in Pohlad's interpretation of Wilson, Was' project could not exist.
David Safin is Assistant Professor of Communication at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Digital Technology from Chatham University in Pittsburgh where he completed the thesis paper, "You Had to Be There: Documentary Techniques in Narrative Comedies." His thesis film, "The Birthday Present," which applied many of the theories detailed in his paper, has won multiple awards and screened at numerous festivals. His areas of interest include video production, television criticism, digital culture, and film studies. He and his wife Kate live in Jeannette, Pennsylvania with their daughter Lily and son Andy.
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