Directed by Johan von Sydow, Tiny Tim: King for a Day is the story of Herbert Khaury. A social outcast from childhood, Khaury grows up to become Tiny Tim, one of the most unexpected and unusual pop stars of the 1960s. With long hair, a falsetto voice, and a ukulele, Tiny Tim was seen by many as a freak for defying social norms. Tiny Tim: King for a Day argues that Tiny Tim’s insistence on standing out paved the way for other non-conforming pop stars such as David Bowie and Boy George.
My favorite parts of the film were the animated sequences set to excerpts from Tiny Tim’s diaries read by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. Yankovic’s narration and the somewhat cartoonish animation managed to inspire sympathy where archival footage of Tiny Tim himself did not. While I loved these scenes and what they were able to convey about Tiny Tim’s inner life, I wished that the rest of the documentary was able to generate an equal emotional response. Instead, the interviews with Tiny Tim’s friends and family felt a bit, well, bland. There were very few personal stories or revealing memories. In some cases, interviewees didn’t discuss Tiny Tim directly at all – opting instead to share their opinions of the figures around the star.
It is an indirectness that permeates a documentary filled with surface-level speculation. One that seems to shy away from looking at its subject head on. There also seemed to be a reluctance to divulge information and context that would reflect negatively on Tiny Tim. For example, the film spends a good amount of time on Tiny Tim’s marriage to Miss Vicki, which was televised on The Tonight Show, but doesn’t mention that Miss Vicki was only seventeen when the marriage took place (Tiny Tim was thirty-seven). Either Tiny Tim: King for a Day assumes this is common knowledge to the viewer, or it has been deliberately omitted.
At the same time, however, it is clear that the filmmakers had an astonishing level of access. There are Tiny Tim’s personal diaries, of course, as well as interviews with his daughter, childhood friends, professional colleagues, and even a phone interview with his first wife, Miss Vicki. With access to the people that were closest to Tiny Tim, it feels strange that this documentary would pull so many punches. At points, Tiny Tim: King of a Day feels only marginally more revealing than a Wikipedia page – albeit a fascinating one.
Tiny Tim: King for a Day is worth a watch, but it lacks heart and intimacy. The result is an interesting, but somewhat impersonal, portrait of the rise and fall of an unlikely pop icon.
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