When I was a kid, I had a K-Tel compilation album that was all novelty songs. One of them was “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim. I listened to that song over and over, mesmerized by the odd voice of its singer, who sounded like a canary having a seizure. His was not a traditionally good voice, yet there was a sincerity to it that couldn't be denied. That voice improbably catapulted Tiny Tim to great fame, including innumerable talk show appearances. Tiny Tim: King for a Day looks back at this most unusual show business icon.
The documentary begins with the requisite childhood recap, although that doesn't go on as long as you'd think. We're pretty quickly told how Herbert Khaury dreamed of being famous. As a young man, he claimed that God appeared to him, advising that he would go far if he sang with “the sissy voice” (his words, not mine). Once he took that advice, doors began opening. At first he was a mere curiosity, but he made the right people curious and landed a record contract. Something about him fit in perfectly to the hippie era of the late '60s. He was in the right place at the right time.
“Weird Al” Yankovic narrates Tiny Tim's journals, which reveal the feelings he had as he attempted to find new ways of keeping the act fresh. Including these writings helps convey the singer's understanding of his novelty appeal. He clearly knew his oddness was an attention-getter. At the same time, he strove to go beyond that, to prove himself an artist capable of enduring. Of course, his career declined pretty badly. You can hear the desperation in his journal entries as he realizes his fifteen minutes are down to their final seconds.
King for a Day makes good use of archival performance and interview clips. It also nicely recaps the phenomenon that was Tiny Tim. Footage of his marriage to Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show, in particular, captures just how fully he caught America's interest. Director Johan von Sydow interviews Tim's widow, some close friends, and professional collaborators. They further illuminate on his unusual path to stardom, as well as his personal unraveling as the spotlight faded.
At just seventy-eight minutes, the film had room to go even deeper than it does. Tiny Tim: King for a Day might additionally be stronger if it interviewed some people who didn't revere its subject, just to get a broader perspective on how he was perceived. As an accounting of a musical performer who succeeded by embracing his self-described freakishness, though, the doc is entertaining and nostalgic for a time when someone like Tiny Tim could win the public over by going entirely against the grain.
out of four
Tiny Tim: King for a Day is unrated, but contains some adult subject matter. The running time is 1 hour and 18 minutes.