New Releases: Beyond the Sea
The best thing about Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey's uneven biopic about Bobby Darin, is its sympathy for the awkward position Darin occupied, in the 1950s and 60s, between pop music and rock'n'roll. Born Walden Robert Cassotto in 1936, Darin was only one year younger than Elvis. But he was not a Southerner; he was an Italian-American from the Bronx, and his dominant musical influences were not the great black and white stars of rhythm & blues, country & western, and gospel, but the great Italian pop singers, from Tony Bennett to Sinatra.
Pop was the residue of the big band era, a music focused on the fine-grained, microphone-magnified vocalism disparaged as "crooning" by ignorant critics. It could be that, but when practiced by singers as subtle and brilliant as Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, or Sarah Vaughan, it approaches the sublime. (See related entry under Soundtrax.)
All the more pity today's young 'uns don't know any better than to call this whole body of work "lounge music." Blame their parents: for the 60s generation, pop was the ancien régime against which their beloved rock'n'roll was the revolution.
So Darin turned to pop in 1959 and never let go (I will pass in respectful silence over his early 70s foray into "folk"). For all its faults (and there are many), Beyond the Sea is worth seeing for the sheer effort Spacey makes to replicate that bygone sound and attitude - an effort all the more poignant because Darin himself was replicating it. Bless him, he was an anachronism all his life.