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In New HBO Bio, Frank Sinatra Sings of His Life - Beautifully
April 3, 2015  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments

HBO is on an amazing run right now with its documentaries. First Jinxed about Robert Durst, then the Scientology report Going Clear, and now, a new, excellent Frank Sinatra bio…

Sinatra: All or Nothing At All, a two-night, four-hour biography premiering Sunday and Monday nights at 8 ET, is an impressive archival project by director Alex Gibney, whose Going Clear study of Scientology just premiered in HBO last Sunday. (Talk about a two-week one-two punch.)

Gibney takes the 11-song set list for Sinatra’s 1971 retirement concert, personally selected by the singer to reflect various portions of his life, and uses them as hooks, musical and otherwise, on which to hang the respective chapters of Sinatra’s existence, from young crooner to aging showman, from Kennedy loyalist to Republican champion.

The performance that night in 1971, which Sinatra believed to be his last time on stage, was captured in footage recently discovered at Nancy Sinatra’s house. Every song is touching, and made more so because of the biographical elements Gibney uses to preface each performance. And the closing number, which follows a searingly defiant “My Way,” presents Sinatra the showman at his very best, walking out of the spotlight and away from the microphone not only figuratively, but literally.

It’s quite a moment – but there are other performance clips in this HBO documentary, drawn from other sources, that have no less impact. There’s Sinatra, as host of his own TV show, doing a duet with a just-back-from-military-service Elvis Presley. Girls in the audience squeal with delight – but only for Elvis. There’s also Sinatra, singing with the Fifth Dimension, clearly out of his element and comfort zone, and straining to connect to the current pop scene. And yet he did just that, in moments not covered by Gibney’s overview, as when he scored a No. 1 hit in 1967, singing with daughter Nancy on “Somethin’ Stupid.”

Many vintage interviews, with Sinatra and others, also tell the singer’s story, and there are newly recorded interviews as well, especially with family members, who authorized this production. That stamp of approval, though, doesn’t mean Sinatra: All or Nothing At All is sanitized or diluted in its discussion of Sinatra’s mob and political ties, his treatment of wives and children, or his suddenly shifting allegiances with friends and colleagues.  Gibney appears to have done this Sinatra biography his way – and it’s captivating.


(For my review of this documentary on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, in which you can hear several excerpts from the two-part HBO special, visit The Fresh Air website.)
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Carol Bell
Would like to buy DVD Is it for sale?
Apr 27, 2015   |  Reply
Patrick J
"All Or Nothing At All" pretty much ignored the incident that turned Sinatra against Democrats - the JFK snub. Sinatra spent a ton of money (he didn't really have) to renovate and upgrade his California home, in the hope that JFK would make it the West Coast White House. JFK was going to the West Coast, but was advised by his brother (and Attorney General) Bobby not to stay with Sinatra, due to Frank's alleged mob connections. JFK made arrangements to stay with Bing Crosby, which angered Frank no end. Sinatra took it out on Peter Lawford, who was married to Kennedy's sister Patricia at the time (Sinatra called Peter "Brother-in-Lawford".) Lawford was kicked out of the Rat Pack, and he and Sinatra never spoke for the rest of Lawford's life. (Lawford died in 1984.) Sinatra soon afterward turned to supporting Republicans. Including Ronald Reagan who he previously disdained.
Apr 25, 2015   |  Reply
Frances Ramsden
Realize this is a bit old - have seen the Bio - wonderful - will the dvd ever be on sale?
Apr 21, 2015   |  Reply
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