By: Emily von Seele
If you’re like me, you may only have a cursory awareness of Tiny Tim. You probably know him as a folk singer who performed in the 1960s, who sang in falsetto and looked a little weird, and who gave us “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” — the song that scared the living shit out of us during James Wan’s Insidious.
From our modern perspective, Tiny Tim may look like a one-hit wonder. An oddity. A strange figure born of a strange era who hit us big with one silly song and was never heard from again. But the opposite is actually true. Tiny Tim had a huge career. In the 60s, he was a mega star, selling massive amounts of records, touring the world, and appearing on just about every talk show imaginable (and setting viewing records when he did so). Time has not been kind to his legacy, casting him as a footnote when the impression he left was actually much bigger.
Johan von Sydow’s film Tiny Tim – King For A Day is a documentary that examines the inner world of Tiny Tim and shines a spotlight on his long and turbulent career. Like many artists, Tiny worked for decades, but had something of a sweet spot early on. After his initial success, he fell into a low period, and was forever chasing that high that comes with being on top. The success, the fame, the adoration — he spent the rest of his career trying to reach that point again.
Through all the struggles, he remained Tiny Tim. The film does a remarkable job of trying to balance his career with the person behind the performer (whose real name was Herbert Khaury). Here, Tiny Tim seems to be less of an on-stage persona and more of who the artist was behind the scenes, as well as in front of the curtain. A shy man from New York who never managed to find his people, until he discovered music.
Growing up, Khaury always struggled to find acceptance; acceptance within his family, within his community, with his music, and with his identity. That is, until he went onstage. He loved music and he loved performing, and when he was singing, he found the love and acceptance he had always longed for.
Von Sydow does a tremendous job of allowing audiences to get a look at Tiny Tim offstage, giving us a well-rounded picture of his life as a whole, not just his career. In addition to interviews with some of Tiny’s industry contemporaries and people in his personal life, the film is guided by entries from Tim’s diaries, narrated by “Weird Al” Yankovic. We get to hear Tiny’s own thoughts, desires, and dreams. This offers an honest, self-reflective approach that is difficult to obtain when the subject of a documentary is no longer with us. The film feels like both an examination of Tiny Tim’s career and a window into his soul.
The film is an intimate look at a very unique artist. We may never again see the likes of Tiny Tim, but his legacy will endure. This film offers the opportunity for a new generation to get to know this one of a kind performer, and for established fans to get a look inside the life of one of their favorites.