At the heart of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi beats a very great documentary. Much of the first half of the 2009 work from Andrew Thomas has been culled from a 1963 film by Ralph J. Gleason (co-director Toby Gleason's father), Anatomy of a Hit. This gorgeous, informative, interesting, black and white work provides a backbone for The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi but, sadly, once the time period covered by Anatomy of a Hit is over, the newer documentary dies a sad, spineless death.
Simply put, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi is a freaking mess. Little pockets of information pop up occasionally (in chronologically questionable order) in the post-1963 section of the film. The rest of the film's second half takes the viewer far afield from Guaraldi (or, at best, with some tenuous connections). The documentary suddenly veers into a discussion of race relations, "What's My Line?", JFK, Lenny Bruce, Irwin Corey, Dick Gregory, and a whole lot more that just doesn't add up to anything.
The few salvageable bits from the film's second half include Guaraldi's involvement with the Peanuts cartoon franchise, his playing the opening of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and his later albums (which are glossed over all too quickly). These brief bits perhaps add up to ten minutes in total. The rest is excruciating, especially the film's finale where we get not one but two completely unnecessary renditions of Guaraldi's song Cast Your Fate to the Wind with tin-eared lyrics thrown on top.
There's no clear narrative voice to the second half of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi. It's not apparent why a lot of the people in interviews are even on screen. Meanwhile, people with obvious connections to Guaraldi, such as his son, David, aren't present. This leaves a huge, infuriating gap in the film. Other than one shot of David as a toddler, he isn't on screen. There's also nary a mention of Guaraldi's wife in the second half of the film. And, other than one mention of Guaraldi's passing and an image of an obituary (with headline text that suddenly starts moving around to no end), there's no discussion of Guaraldi's death.
It's sad that a five minute glance at Wikipedia will allow people to glean more information on Guaraldi than the 116 minute film! The interviews with Guaraldi's bandmates, a few other musicians, and Peanuts partner Lee Mendelson are interesting and add to the information presented by The Anatomy of a Hit but the rest of the material shouldn't even qualify as DVD extras.
According to this article in Variety, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi has won best-doc honors at fests in Colorado and Utah. I'm not sure how this is possible. The more I think back about the film, the angrier I get at just how muddled it is. There are large chunks of the film that could be (should be) removed that would only strengthen what little narrative there is in the film's second half. It's shocking for me to read that "writer-director Andrew Thomas, [has] worked on A&E's "Biography" and History Channel's "Modern Marvels" documentary series." He should have known better.
In short, Ralph J. Gleason's original material (Anatomy of a Hit, Jazz Casual) should be released in whole and the rest of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi needs to be junked or saved as supplemental materials to Gleason's work.
It looks like there may be another documentary about Guaraldi in the works, something called Cast Your Fate. I'm hoping that this is the antidote to Andrew Thomas's unsatisfying documentary. We can hope.