[Fantasia 2020] TINY TIM - KING FOR A DAY -- A Brief but Loving Tribute to an Idiosyncratic Musician
Review by Sean Boelman
There are some people who remember Tiny Tim as one of the most unique vocal artists of all time, and others who recognize his distinctive voice from the numerous iconic uses of his music in pop culture. But regardless of their connection with the subject, viewers will find themselves fascinated with Johan von Sydow’s biography of the musician, Tiny Tim - King for a Day.
The film details how Herbert Kaury, better known as Tiny Tim, captured lightning in a bottle to become one of the world’s most successful recording artists at the time, singing in a falsetto that would normally send him into novelty act status, yet reaching unexpected stardom in the mainstream market. In a way it’s an underdog story, but it’s also a tragic story of the costs of stardom.
Even those who may not be particularly familiar with his work before watching the movie will definitely find themselves admiring Tiny Tim for both what he did and how he did it. He’s got a lot of different talents, and while there are some not-so-savory details revealed here about what he did behind-the-scenes, it does a great job of showing him for the broken person he was.
The most interesting part of the movie explores how Tiny Tim essentially became addicted to the spotlight. The last half of the film, which is about the later years in his life after he had already reached the peak of his popularity, are more compelling and much more unique than the rest, if only because they feel like they are coming from a place of honesty.
At only an hour and fifteen minutes, the movie does feel somewhat rushed, focusing mostly on the major events in Tiny Tim’s life. And while von Sydow doesn’t shy away from the truth of some of the darker elements of his personal life, it still feels like this isn’t quite personal enough to be the definitive portrait of his life that it is supposed to be.
Of course, as one would expect, Tiny Tim’s music has a big part in the film, both in the form of performance footage and a soundtrack to accompany the archive materials. It gives the movie a very playful feel, with the exception of when the film takes its much more somber turn, at which point, interviews take over as the main driving force.
There is one additional storytelling method used by von Sydow, and that is narration from another famous outsider musician, none other than “Weird Al” Yankovic, but this portion of the movie feels disappointingly underused. It’s an interesting idea, but having materials written by Tiny Tim be read aloud isn’t nearly as compelling.
Tiny Tim - King for a Day is definitely a very charming biography, especially if one has an interest in its subject. Still, because of its short length, it doesn’t quite deliver on the level of depth that most viewers will be wanting.
Tiny Tim - King for a Day screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which ran August 20-September 2.