Although I expected to like the TCM documentary Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me (which I caught last night), I didn’t expect to be floored by it. But I was.
The film exists because Clint Eastwood willed it into existence. He produced the film (occasioned by the centennial of the great lyricist’s birth this month) and it bears his stamp in several ways. One of those ways is that it contains all sorts of amazing clips that never would been unearthed and never would have been licensed were it not for Eastwood’s clout. Written and directed by Bruce Ricker, who has worked with Eastwood a long time on various music and film projects (including Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser), the film is beautifully constructed (I give Eastwood credit for that as well as Ricker) and is a surprisingly satisfying account of Mercer’s life and work. Perhaps the highest praise you can give any documentary biography is that it makes you not just know the man, but feel him. This film does.
And Mercer was a really cool guy, as well as being our greatest poet. (Take that, Walt Whitman and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.) Knowing him, and feeling him, is a good thing.
The doc contains about a minute-and-a-half of unfortunate “vanity project” flavor when Eastwood’s teenage daughter sings a Mercer song in a recording studio (she sings pleasantly but amateurishly, and I’m not sure what Eastwood was thinking other than to do something nice for his daughter), but the other 88 ½ minutes of the film are at a level of excellence seldom seen in the documentary genre. That vanity moment occurs fairly early on, so when you see it, just persevere and get past it. You will be rewarded.
While patriotism is not the subject of the film, this thorough picture of the man from Savannah made me, yes, proud to be an American. Any country that could produce a Johnny Mercer can’t be all bad. Just one more showing of the film is scheduled this month: tomorrow, Wednesday November 18 (the date of Mercer’s hundredth birthday), at 5 PM Central, on TCM. Then not again until December 19. A DVD comes out on December 8. Get it. But don’t wait for it.