The Beach Boys, going into the sunset, look back on years of harmony and heartache in documentary

Both the Beach Boys and “The Beach Boys” — the new documentary that dropped Friday on Disney+ — are all about blending a range of voices.

The three Wilson brothers — Brian, Carl and Dennis — along with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, brought a harmonic revolution to group vocals with their Southern California sound that brightened the 1960s with songs like “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows.”

In his documentary on them, director Frank Marshall took oft-told tales of the band’s six decades of heartache and harmony, and tried to make them broader, and brighter, by mixing as many voices as possible.

“It was the blend of everything,” Marshall told The Associated Press in a joint interview with Love and Jardine in a Hollywood recording studio. “It’s the blend not only of the family story, but the blend of the harmonies. If you took one element out, you wouldn’t have the Beach Boys.”

The 83-year-old Love said Marshall’s project was “a monumental effort” for all involved and that they’ve “never done so much promotion in our entire lives.”

“This fella here, Frank, is able to take all that ridiculous amount of information and make it into a coherent, wonderful, documentary that really gives not only a look into the individuals, but the collective impact,” he said.

The film includes extensive new interviews with the singer Love and singer-guitarist Jardine, 81. And it draws from many archive interviews to give the perspectives of singer-guitarist Carl Wilson, who died from cancer in 1998 at age 51, singer-drummer Dennis Wilson, who drowned in a Los Angeles-area harbor in 1984 at age 30, and to their older brother Brian, mastermind of the band’s sound.

The 81-year-old Brian Wilson makes current-day appearances in Marshall’s film, including an emotional scene at the show’s coda whose details remain best unspoiled. But the mental decline that recently led to his loved ones establishing a court conservatorship for him left his contributions limited.

Often, the media admiration of the group’s music focuses entirely on the eldest Wilson boy with what many consider his unmatched musical imagination and innovation. Marshall’s documentary does nothing to downplay his genius, but emphasizes he was not alone.

It is rarely acknowledged, for example, that Love wrote the lyrics to dozens of songs including “I Get Around,” “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda” and the sweetly poetic “Good Vibrations,” penned in the car on the way to the session to record them: “I love the colorful clothes she wears, and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair.”

The Wilsons’ father and early band manager Murry Wilson, in one of many moments of mismanagement shown in the documentary, sold the Beach Boys’ song catalog for $700,000 in 1969 without consulting the band members, and left Love’s name off as a contributor.

“That’s rough,” Love told the AP, “when your uncle sells your songs without giving you any credit. And it really hit Brian hard.” But, Love adds, “the upside is that I did contribute. My cousin and I together wrote some great songs.”

The documentary “The Beach Boys,” directed by Frank Marshall, was recently released on Disney+. Courtesy of Disney+

Murry Wilson’s surreptitious sale led to the song rights becoming a tangled thicket that for years kept Marshall, who made similar documentaries on the Bee Gees in 2022 and Carole King and James Taylor in 2020, from making the Beach Boys film that he’d long dreamed of. But the recent purchase of the rights by his friend Irving Azoff gave him a green light.

Marshall’s film also includes the voices of David Marks, who was briefly in the group at its inception; Bruce Johnston, who became a Beach Boy in 1965; and famous fans from several generations including Don Was, Lindsey Buckingham and Janelle Monae.

“The Beach Boys” doesn’t shy away from the unsunny moments in their history, including Dennis Wilson’s dalliances with the Charles Manson Family (before their notoriety as a murderous cult) and his dark and devastating drowning.

It also examines the mental health struggles that left Brian Wilson unable to make music for long stretches, and the bitter, band-related disputes that became broader family disputes.

Love is reduced to tears in the film when he talks about his estrangement from his cousin Brian, and desire to tell him he loves him.

Happier moments are plentiful, too, especially from the earliest years. Jardine gets emotional in the film when he talks about the boys auditioning a capella for his mother, singing her a Four Freshmen tune and the first Beach Boys original, “Surfin,” so they could buy instruments and become a real band.

“She worked at a Macy’s up the street and made about 300 bucks a month,” Jardine told the AP. “She turned the whole 300 over to us.”

That would make possible The Beach Boys — a name, Jardine said, that he never liked.

Love said he tries to set aside the bitterness and focus on those moments.

“I mean, we know the impact of the music of the Beach Boys. It’s been felt all over the world,” he said. “We have far more to be grateful for than to be regretful about.”

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