Monday, June 9, 2014

The Point (1971)

          Among the myriad reasons why singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson casts such a long shadow, despite producing only a few genuine radio hits, is this made-for-television animated movie. Funny, imaginative, satirical, and thoughtful, The Point feels like the product of a deeply humane artist. When viewed in the context of Nilsson’s self-destructive life, which was filled with episodes of drunken caddishness, The Point reveals the immense complexity of Nilsson’s personality. He was a kind-hearted entertainer who enjoyed longtime friendships with luminaries including John Lennon and Ringo Starr, he was a sharp student of the human condition who wrote eccentric and memorable songs, and he was a violent-tempered asshole when he was plastered. Accordingly, it’s interesting to see how the various facets of Nilsson’s persona inform The Point.
          Nilsson created the “original fable” upon which the project was based, and then he collaborated on the making of the animated movie, cowriting the story and writing and producing the song score. Further, Nilsson generated a companion album. The movie and the album are slightly different, with one noteworthy variation being the spoken narration—although Nilsson does this task on the album, essentially telling the story as a set-up for his own songs, Nilsson does not narrate the movie. Dustin Hoffman, of all people, was the narrator of the original TV broadcast, but the currently available versions of The Point feature Ringo Starr’s voice.
          The Point takes place in a nameless mythical land where everything has a point, as in a sharp spire, until a little boy named Oblio is born with a round head. Society can’t decide what to do about something that doesn’t have a point, so the boy is shunned to the Pointless Forest. Eventually, Oblio comes to realize that he has a point, just not literally, so he teaches everyone in his world a lesson about tolerance and understanding. Although The Point basically repeats the same joke for 74 minutes, with myriad variations, the joke is so thematically rich—and the film’s execution is so endearing—that the picture remains interesting from start to finish.
          Fred Wolf, the principal creative force on the movie besides Nilsson, employs a simplistic drawing style, but he ensures that faces are rendered expressively. Combined with the way Oblio is portrayed as the living symbol of innocence, Wolf’s visual style ensures that The Point feels very much like the popular Peanuts animated specials of the ’60s and ’70s. (Even the subtle wit of the movie’s dialogue—including a gentle skewering of thick-headed grown-ups—is quite reminiscent of Peanuts.) Some lines of dialogue make thematic concerns too overt (like a bit about a man being asked whether he’d let his daughter marry a boy without a point), and some of Nilsson’s lyrical whimsy is obtuse. But when the movie really clicks, as with the key song “Me and My Arrow” (which is about Olbio’s travels with his dog, Arrow), The Point is as meaningful as it is melodic.

The Point: GROOVY


pete doree said...

Wow. This is my new favourite movie, and I haven't even seen it yet.

Xteve said...

Huge fan of Nilsson. This might be my favorite album of his. I love that it's a kids fable that isn't simplistic or patronizing.