Sunday, July 14, 2024

“AVICII – I’M TIM”

THE STORYIn 2011, Avicii – born Tim Bergling – took the world by storm with his groundbreaking hits, setting records and captivating audiences with his infectious electronic dance music. Then, in a flash, it all ended when Bergling committed suicide in 2018. This documentary charts Avicii’s meteoric rise to fame and his sudden death through never-before-seen tour footage and behind-the-scenes glimpses of his creative process.

THE CAST – Tim Bergling, Chris Martin, Nile Rodgers, Arash Pournouri, David Guetta & Aloe Blacc

THE TEAM – Henrik Burman (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 125 Minutes


Not all documentaries need to be complicated. Non-traditional stylistic approaches for documentaries, serious or not, can yield some of the best the medium has to offer whether the film in question is “Dick Johnson is Dead” or “Kokomo City.” However, much has been complained at length regarding the incessant cinematic propensity to churn out films that track a celebrity’s life from the cradle to the grave on an assembly line that couldn’t care less about substance beyond what viewers can already find in a cursory Wikipedia skim. That doesn’t even include the documentaries co-produced by the subject and thus made in their image. “Rose-colored” is too mild a term to describe the glasses through which they are conceived.

Henrik Burman’s “Avicii – I’m Tim” is something of an exception to the rule. Charting the life and accomplishments of Tim Bergling – the Swedish DJ known to anyone who has listened to music in the last 10-plus years as Avicii – Burman’s film does, indeed, follow the tired cradle-to-grave formula that has dulled projects of a similar ilk in the recent past (Bergling tragically took his own life in 2018 at the age of 28). But what this documentary possesses that hundreds of others lack is a rare sense of soul. It doesn’t rely on sit-down interviews with journalists who have deemed themselves the foremost authorities on an artist’s career, instead placing an emphasis on industry personalities and, especially, close friends of Bergling, with the two often intersecting.

More than any other, to the film’s ultimate credit, we hear from Bergling himself. It’s evident that Burman and co. were working with Avicii’s team on a documentary of sorts for years before his death, but “I’m Tim” employs a great deal of archival behind-the-scenes footage of Bergling’s rise that was clearly filmed in an effort, from the moment he pieced together the beat to his first hit, “Levels,” to the moment something clicked within him leading to a change in his sound and taste. We see Bergling working with artists like Chris Martin – he produced Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” – Dan Tyminski, who provided the vocals for “Hey Brother,” and Aloe Blacc, who sings on “SOS” and Avicii’s biggest sensation, “Wake Me Up.” This footage is intercut with interviews with said artists, as well as conversations with some of Bergling’s closer personal confidants, like his longtime manager Arash “Ash” Pournouri and the nightclub promoter Jesse Waits, who became a brother to Bergling over the course of their years long friendship.

Most prominently and notably, we hear Bergling discussing his complicated relationship with fame and his struggles with mental health. Almost always heard in voiceover, he  notes that he never felt like much of an artist or producer but a person “filled with music.” You can see that mentality in his early performances, in particular; Bergling, often donning an Atlanta Braves or Oakland Athletics cap because of the “A” logos they featured on the front, typically wore plaid button-ups one might pull off the clearance rack at Kohl’s while performing at EDM (electronic dance music) festivals like Miami’s heralded Ultra. While his fans donned skin-tight neon digs, the artist known as Avicii appeared as though he was about to accept an academic excellence award at his high school.

Such habits make it clear that Avicii was merely a mask for the man named Tim, the artist serving as an alternate personality, not quite something he’d consider an escape. A friend recalls that “Tim and Avicii weren’t really getting along for a long time,” almost like the DJ within was a Venom-esque syndicate itching to control the man’s body and soul. Tim himself says, “I didn’t like [having] to be Avicii and then [having] to be Tim… Then I didn’t even enjoy making music.” It’s heartbreaking, an internal sparring not at all worthy of chalking up to the price of fame.

Over the course of “I’m Tim’s” two admittedly bloated hours, we see Tim go from an eager up-and-comer to a superstar desperate for solace; we hear him note not only how empty fame feels, that he often feels as though he’s operating on auto-pilot in order to fulfill a certain level of energy that DJs tend to be synonymous with. Despite being a bit long in the tooth, Burman’s film is as comprehensive as it gets regarding how much Tim was working to maintain his listenership. Early in the film, we hear that the easy part of being a DJ is pressing the buttons but that becoming a performer requires reading the room, playing with an audience’s emotions and energy, and being cognizant of everything on top of the music itself.

Though Avicii had the ability to do so in abundance, there’s also only so much a human being can manage. Oftentimes, stars aren’t viewed as mere humans but as immortal beings; “I’m Tim’s” strongest calling card is how much focus it lends to ensuring that the person takes precedence, not merely the hitmaker. It still spends too much time on the artist, especially considering how rushed the conclusion is – the film’s most pivotal stretch, whether or not audiences are familiar with Bergling’s untimely death – but it’s unlikely that you’re here unless you’re at least somewhat familiar with his music.

Some may fall somewhere in the gray area in regards to being a fan and a casual listener. Most have heard his tracks “Wake Me Up” or “Hey Brother,” more times than any iPod could handle, and his contributions to various FIFA soundtracks were monumental. Yet it almost feels inconceivable to think that a documentary about this young disc jockey’s life would be made so soon. Of course, when those songs first came out, it felt like a lifetime ago, a lifetime before mental health battles became prominent in our lives. Today, speaking personally, I know that the silent strugglers are the most vulnerable. Today, I appreciate Avicii for placing a spotlight on that lifelong fight. I only wish he had received and/or sought help when his own battle was at its most dire.

It’s difficult to listen to some of Avicii’s songs after watching “
I’m Tim” – as it will almost certainly inspire you to do – given how clear his cries for help suddenly sound. That line from “Wake Me Up” pleading, “So wake me up when it’s all over,” takes on a whole new meaning; Blacc notes that when he listens to “SOS” today, he hears a letter from Tim that came way too late:

Can you hear me? S.O.S….Help me put my mind to rest / Two times clean again, I’m actin’ low… A pound of weed and a bag of blow.”

I get robbed of all my sleep… As my thoughts begin to bleed / I’d let go, but I don’t know how… Yeah, I don’t know how, but I need to now.”

If you wish to view it as such, “Avicci – I’m Tim” succeeds as a tribute. But it has a lot more on its mind than serving as a visual legacy. Of course, watching it through that lens works, too, but its more profound messages are meaningful and vital for all, not just for EDM fanatics and Swedish club-goers. Plenty of us have been in a place where we want to let go but don’t know how. Perhaps a visual (and musical) reminder to reach up for the extended hand is just what the doctor ordered.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Both a beautiful tribute to an artist and a vital look at how debilitating silent struggles with mental health can tend to be; it’s something both Tim Bergling and Avicii would appreciate.

THE BAD - It runs long, and where it spends almost too much time documenting Avicii’s musical highs, it should have dedicated even more attention to Bergling’s death in 2018 and the legacy he left behind.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Both a beautiful tribute to an artist and a vital look at how debilitating silent struggles with mental health can tend to be; it’s something both Tim Bergling and Avicii would appreciate.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It runs long, and where it spends almost too much time documenting Avicii’s musical highs, it should have dedicated even more attention to Bergling’s death in 2018 and the legacy he left behind.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"AVICII - I'M TIM"