TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY (Fantasia Fest 2020)

In the words of comedian John Mulaney, “I’m 35, married, with no kids to talk about, and my mom doesn’t understand my career”.
My mother doesn’t really understand what we do here at DrunkInAGraveyard.com (keep reading this will all make sense, I’m going somewhere with this I swear). She knows that somehow on the internet we do a thing, and occasionally we win awards for those things, or we travel for those things, but really at the end of the day, if push came to shove she couldn’t really tell you much about it all. She doesn’t like horror films, in case you were wondering. But one thing my mom really *really* likes is Tiny Tim. She was a child of the 1960s, so she grew up with his music, and had as much paraphernalia as her working class Ukrainian mother could afford. So, it was a strange bonding experience to chat with my mother about the comings and goings at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, and we got to the subject of this Tiny Tim documentary called “King For A Day”. My mother lit up and began reciting facts about Tiny Tim’s life, his marriage, “his little wife was named Ms. Vicki”, and how she thought “he was a true hippie, ahead of his time”. I don’t often have moments like these, so this was particularly poignant for me going into Johan von Sydow’s TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY.

Most horror fans only know Tiny Tim from the use of his “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” cover that is played fairly prominently in the Blumhouse made 2010 supernatural horror film “Insidious”. But Tiny Tim is so much more than a song made creepy by its inclusion with an arguably terrible “demonic” entity. For me, I view Tiny Tim as someone who is so representative of outsider art, someone bizarre, somewhat unhinged, but utterly unique and I’ve only experienced his work second and third hand. I wasn’t there when he came a household name, and then a washed up has-been. I was still a child when he died. But there’s something about his music and persona, and the way that he managed to be astonishingly and unapologetically himself in a time when counter culture wasn’t something bought and sold in chain stores at the mall.
That concept alone really speaks to me and as I went through TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY, I found myself understanding so much more about the life and traumas that had shaped Tiny to become who he was. Producer and Tiny Tim biographer Justin Martell’s book Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim was used as strong reference material throughout the documentary and made for compelling watching. The documentary takes us from Tiny Tim’s humble beginnings as Herbert Khaury through to his dive bar days, the crushing despair of his earliest existence, to stardom, and again to despair. The film utilizes interviews with contemporaries – Wavy Gravy, D.A. Pennabaker, and Tommy James, as well as Tim’s wives and child to paint a portrait of a brilliant but troubled, powerful yet gentle soul that was likely a bit too sensitive for the life that comes with being a star. The film is unflinching in its delivery of fairly harsh criticism of how Tiny’s career was often hampered by his own action or inaction, and how his odd proclivities could be seen played out in his personal relationships.

I will confess it took me two sittings to finish the film, and I thought the middle sections of the documentary were the weakest points and seemed to drag just a little. I found the earliest portions of Tiny’s life, narrated by the always wonderful Weird Al Yankovic were the most compelling. The story of Tiny’s passing was sad and bitter – ameliorated only by knowing he quite literally died doing what he loved, and most of us, are not so lucky.
I appreciated that the film didn’t go into the spooky ooky territory of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” being cursed, like so many paranormal shows have done, likely owing to its inclusion in the aforementioned “Insidious”. I felt that the portrait that was painted of this strange person’s even stranger existence was so deeply humbling and heartwarming. There was such love shown in this documentary, that even though Tiny Tim was merely a king for a day, he still reigns strongly in the hearts of many. Wonderful work, and accessible to people who may not be huge Tiny Tim fans.

DIAG RATING 4/6 – a haunting portrait of someone who was weird before being weird became an accepted North American commodified cultural norm.

You can check out more of our Fantasia coverage here:

The Drunk in a Graveyard guide to the TEN FILMS we are most psyched about at Fantasia Fest 2020.

Our interview with Detention (返校) director John Hsu 徐漢強 is here and our review of Detention (返校) can be found here, coverage of JUMBO, coverage of THE OAK ROOM, coverage of The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, coverage of The Undertaker’s Home (La Funeralia) is here, coverage of YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE is here, Brea Grant’s 12 HOUR SHIFT and Ryan Spindell’s THE MORTUARY COLLECTION can be found on our latest podcast episode, and coverage of Amelia Moses’s BLEED WITH ME, 上田慎一郎 Shinichiro Ueda’s SPECIAL ACTORS, Neil Marshall’s THE RECKONING, short film DOPPELBÅNGER here, as well as our podcast episode on Justin McConnell’s documentary Clapboard Jungle here. And be sure to stay tuned for more coverage coming up soon, and follow our social media to keep up!

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