My experience with the works of Frank Sinatra are amateurish. I’ve watched a few of his films and I know his hits (haven’t listened to any of the deep cuts). In honor of his centennial, a wellspring of Sinatra material is being produced, starting with documentarian Alex Gibney’s two-part documentary, Sinatra: All or Nothing at All. A veritable buffet of Sinatra material for the beginner and intermediate fan, this is an in-depth, albeit safe, summation of the actor/singer’s work presented through the eleven songs he sang during his 1971 retirement concert.
Director Alex Gibney’s name opens many doors, and Sinatra: All or Nothing At All is packed with information, all spoken by those involved. This isn’t a documentary wherein a series of talking heads espouse anecdotes; Gibney uses archival footage of the towns Sinatra was in, the movies and concerts he performed in, as everyone talks over them. There’s interviews with all of Sinatra’s family members, including his wives and children, as well as people in the record and movie business. But none of these can pack the punch of Sinatra’s own words, and he’s firmly in control of his own story.
The documentary is broken up into segments dictated by the eleven songs he sang as part of his 1971 farewell concert. This is a great ploy that opens up an examination of Sinatra: the singer, Sinatra: the actor, Sinatra: the man, and gives audiences every piece of Sinatra out there, both the ones they know and the ones they don’t know. As someone who knows Sinatra: the actor, primarily, the first half of the documentary gives more material than the latter, that’s not the documentary’s fault, as Sinatra stepped away from acting as he got older.
There’s also some fascinating material on Sinatra’s private life. The emphasis lies more towards his first marriage and his marriage to Mia Farrow, with Ava Gardner getting a few mentions in the middle. The comments from his wives and children show a man with clearly delineated personas, shy with those he loved and gregarious when out with the Rat Pack or on camera. Gardner’s comments sound like they’re being read from her autobiography, and it leads to the film’s biggest flaw: it’s deathly terrified of saying anything negative.
This isn’t to say I expected Sinatra’s name to be slandered. There’s no doubt the man was decent, with a strong philanthropic heart, but it’s laughable to ignore the multitude of comments Gardner and Farrow made about Sinatra’s abusive tendencies. There’s even mention made by Sinatra’s friends about how he could be violent and was “flawed,” but we’re never told anything to that effect. It’s not surprising considering his family’s involvement, but it does make for a portrait of a deity, more often than not. There’s also a very brief overview of Frank Sinatra Jr.’s kidnapping, with Sinatra Jr. saying absolutely nothing about it. Maybe there’s a reason for his silence, but it doesn’t do much to dissuade those from assuming it was a publicity stunt.
Sinatra: All or Nothing At All is a fascinating summation of a man who was bigger than life. It’s a bit too squeaky clean in certain areas, but if you’re looking for a good way to get all the information necessary on the man called The Voice and The Chairman of the Board, it’s a must.
Sinatra: All or Nothing At All airs on HBO all this month
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.