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Sinatra: All or Nothing at All [Preview] 

Sinatra: All or Nothing at All [Preview]
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Going Clear: Scientology. HBO is on fire with its rollout of amazing documentaries.Tonight and tomorrow night the premium channel focuses on a legendary entertainer in Sinatra: All or Nothing at All. It features exclusive footage of Ol’ Blue Eyes in concert and behind the scenes.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Synopsis: Focusing on Sinatra’s first 60 years – beginning with his birth in Hoboken, New Jersey and meteoric rise in his 20s – and drawing on comments from friends and family, as well as never-before-seen footage from home movies and concert performances, this unprecedented tribute to the beloved showman follows Sinatra’s growth from roadhouse performer to global singing sensation. With the participation of the Frank Sinatra Estate, family members and archivists, Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, is an intimate portrait of the singer, actor, father, husband and philanthropist.

Academy Award and Emmy Award winner (and Going Clear producer/director) Alex Gibney directed the documentary with Frank Marshall as executive producer. Earlier this year, Gibney and Marshall talked to reporters about Sinatra: All or Nothing at All at the 2015 Winter Press Tour.

On introducing Sinatra to a whole new generation of fans

Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Alex Gibney: I think one of the most amazing things about the world in which we live in, the sort of mashup culture in which we live in, is the distant past can exist in the present in ways that are kind of unprecedented. And, you know, the whole sort of sample culture that we live in, too, amplifies that.  So I think that was the  that was the thinking behind this and also very much the thinking in terms of trying to set it in a kind of present day context. And this is what I mean by that: We didn’t shoot any on camera interviews with anybody. All the interviews we did were audio interviews only. And what that allows us to do, in a way, is to stay more in the present of the moment of the time that we’re showing. So it has that kind of quality in which you’re living these events, not kind of looking back at them.

On the most surprising aspect of Sinatra

Alex: One of the things that we got from the family were a lot of recollections from him about his own life, particularly his own life as a young man and the striving that he had. And I think we’ve become familiar with the mature Sinatra, the Rat Pack Sinatra; but seeing his insecurity as a young man and the striving that he had and the way his mother, who was a very forceful woman, was determined to make him succeed. That kind of Gatsby-like rise, that was something that was really interesting to me that I hadn’t considered initially. And a lot of that comes out of Frank himself talking about it.

On the structure of the documentary

Alex: The film’s roughly chronological, and we come to a moment where he achieves something very big, which is his Oscar in From Here to Eternity. And there’s a magical moment where he’s walking alone with that Oscar, and it’s the culmination of his dreams. And then we push forward. The structure of the film is a little is not a purely chronological structure because we’re not doing a strictly cradle-to-grave biography. The 1971 Retirement Concert didn’t happen to be his retirement. He may have thought it was at the time. So we focus on those years up to about 1971, but then we flick forward a little bit and have a way of kind of suggesting that his music lives forever at the very end. And we use those songs as kind of benchmarks along the way to get at certain key moments. So there’s a rough chronology to the whole thing, but at the same time, there’s a kind of focus narratively on certain key moments so that it doesn’t become like a ticking box. It focuses in on aspects of his life that were very important to him.

On what’s most psychologically interesting about Sinatra

Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Alex: I think his ambition is what impressed me. I mentioned Gatsby earlier. I think he’s a figure that’s very much like that. And he willed himself to a prominent position at the center of our culture, and he stayed there for a long period of time. That, to me, is the most interesting thing about him. I think he was a hot-blooded character who could…he had a rough temper. But at the same time, he was tremendously generous. So he embodied these contradictions, which I think is what’s so rich about him and what makes him so American. We are a country that’s sort of the best and the worst of everything. And he embodied these contradictions that were so powerful, that that’s what kind of makes him an interesting character.

On the exclusive footage used in the documentary

Frank Marshall: It was a pretty incredible moment when we actually…I went over to Nancy Sinatra’s house, and she had told us about this footage that existed of this concert. And I, said, ‘Well, where is it?’ She said, ‘Oh, it’s at my house.’ So I went to her house, and we went up and opened the door. And there were boxes of film, those old film boxes, the yellow boxes, square boxes, piled in this room, of this concert, 11 songs. Unbelievable. Film that had never been seen before. So that’s where we started. That was the first day. And then there’s a giant warehouse out in Santa Clarita (California) that has thousands of square footage of tapes and photos. We have home movies of them in Toluca Lake on the lake with Frank pushing the kids on little boats and things, stuff…it’s just amazing stuff. And then the audio — 16 hours of audio of Frank. I mean, amazing stuff. So the hardest part is figuring out what we’re going to use. There’s so much.

Alex: Yeah, and one of the great things about particularly the film footage that Frank mentions, I mean, not only is there the film that exists, but the multi-track of that night also exists. So it’s really robust. But it’s interesting, that film, because it’s not filmed like a traditional special would be done, you know, very high gloss and glitzy. It’s shot in ’71 with 16 millimeter cameras. And as a result, there’s a kind of — not amateur exactly — but a sort of intimate quality that was very much a part of that moment in time with the new, very light, cinema verite cameras that were coming into usage. And so it has a different kind of quality than you’re used to seeing with Frank Sinatra. It feels much more…

Frank:  Real.

Alex: Personal and real.

Frank: Yeah.

On the cooperation of the Sinatra family

Frank: The experience has been great. They’ve been extremely cooperative. Obviously, we needed the rights to a lot of the material that they have. They opened up the archives. They’ve done interviews with us. Frank Jr., Nancy, and Tina, and Nancy Sr. have all talked to us. And they have a perspective that they’ve presented to us and Alex…it’s been a very open, collaborative relationship. They have their opinions about certain things, and we listen. And, as I say, the stuff that they have given us from the archives is what’s most important. We wouldn’t be here without that cooperation.

On whether the documentary goes into why Sinatra decided to retire and then come out of retirement

Alex: It does. We don’t know for sure because he didn’t share it with anybody, even his…

Frank: Even the kids.

Alex: Even the kids. But a number of things happened. The death of his father was a huge blow to him emotionally. He had two records that didn’t do very well at all. Sort of in Sinatra terms, they were really shocking, how little they sold. So there’s a question was he in sync with the culture anymore? And I think he was tired. I think he was burned out. And so there were a lot of things going on in his mind, and I think he came to a point where he couldn’t imagine himself on top anymore in the way that he had before. That’s my supposition. And I think he was also tired and emotionally spent. So all these things, I think, contribute to a moment where he says, ‘Look, I’m going to retire.’ But then very quickly he missed it too much. And I think he saw a way back, and he gets back in ways that dominate the culture, particularly with a song like “New York, New York,” which still gets played at stadiums all over the country. So it’s an interesting dynamic. And I think he very much for a guy who stood atop the culture for so long, he could really feel the zeitgeist. And I think that’s one of the things that he wondered about and whether he was still in touch that way. And it’s one of the things that propelled him, I think, to retire at that moment. But we’re just guessing.

Frank:  Yeah. And I also think that one of the things that I wasn’t really aware of were the peaks and valleys in his career. It wasn’t just like that (indicating a steady rise). And this is one of the valleys, and then again he rises up to the top several years later.

Alex: The famous moment when in theory he got the part in From Here to Eternity because of a deal with the Mob, I think he was at a very low ebb. And there’s some evidence that Ava Gardner was like, ‘You know, I’ve got to get this guy a gig,’ intervened on his behalf and helped to get him a very important part. It was not the Mob in this particular case.

The two-hour part one of Sinatra: All or Nothing at All debuts tonight at 8/7c. Part 2 is also two hours and premieres tomorrow night at 8/7c.

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