In 1977, an aspiring musical force from upstate New York named Gary Wilson self-released an album called “You Think You Really Know Me.” Combining rock, jazz, funk and avant-garde sound effects, the album failed to propel Wilson to any degree of widescale recognition. Wilson moved to California in search of fame and fortune, but found neither. Discouraged and financially strapped, Wilson quietly faded from the music scene and probably would’ve remained unknown, except that “You Think You Really Know Me” built up a small cult following over the years. When the label Motel Records wanted to reissue it in 2002, they were perplexed because Wilson was nowhere to be found. Even private investigators were unable to locate him.
“You Think You Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story” follows the search for the elusive musician, which not only discovers him (working as a night manager for a San Diego adult bookstore) but also connects him with the audience he never had (well-publicized and well-attended New York club gigs in support of the re-release of his 1977 album).
This is a professionally-made film, but not an especially interesting one. The fault does not rest with the filmmakers, who do a grand job in compiling various interviews, vintage footage and musical samplings. The problem rests squarely on its subject, who is never as intriguing or talented as his supporters claim him to be.
Back in the 70s, Wilson affected an outrageous performance demeanor which included going on stage wrapped in duct tape and soaked with either red paint or flour. His taste for extreme behavior was also reflected in over-the-top performances in crazy no-budget films which he shot with his friends during his youth. But for all the excessive antics of years passed, Wilson comes across today as a somewhat grouchy and monotonous man. He never seems right to play the role of the artistic rebel or musical visionary, and even in his comeback performances he seems lackluster and stiff.
The realm of so-called “outsider music” is not lacking with delightfully eccentric iconoclasts who found belated fame years after their initial forays into recording (the sister rock group called The Shaggs are perhaps the best known). But as with any cult following (whether in music or movies), one person’s deity is another person’s dullard. Unless you’re worshiping at the temple of Gary Wilson, this film will leave you confused and bored.