Avicii Portrait

Avicii: True Stories Directed by Levan Tsikurishvili

Obscurity, success, fame, burn out, suicide.

I’m not talking about the fictional A Star is Born but about Avicii: True Stories, one smart, slightly obscure documentary. You may know Avicii as a mega famous DJ. You may know he died too soon at the age of 28 in April 2018. This riveting film is a very intimate glimpse into his rise to immense fame and rapid burnout.

In Avicii: True Stories, you watch the young Swede Tim Bergling mix music beats and get discovered at age 17 by a promoter who becomes his manager in 2007. The budding artist continues to develops his craft and assumes the stage name of Avicii. In short order, he releases a club hit with the song “Levels,” in which he loops vocals by Etta James. As Avicii, Tim headlines his first festival show at age 21 on Governors Island in New York, where the audience sings along every one of his songs and repeatedly chants his name. Tim’s genuine awkward surprise at the success of the gig is captured after the show. “I was so blown away.”

Then, Tim’s life enters the fast lane. His music becomes huge in the club scene and on YouTube. His timely career blossoms alongside the rise in popularity of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and the ever-growing EDM worldwide festivals. Avicii headlines more than 100 shows year-in-and-year-out. He also encounters health issues, surgeries, prescription abuse, and extremely high levels of stress…

Avicii True Stories Film Poster

Amazing Footage in Avicii: True Stories

The festival footage in Avicii: True Stories is astounding. Many shots are from over the shoulders of Avicii from his perspective looking out on the throngs of fans. Tens of thousands (sometimes 60,000) loving young faces with upright arms bounce and smile to his music spun by Avicii on an elevated platform with fireworks in the foreground and massive projections of his image behind him. The overall impression is of the DJ with a god-like hold over the crowd. But what you see in the film is Tim, a frail pale talented guy doing his best.

The intimate footage and personal discussions on the road provide insight into Tim’s struggle with massive fame. How does he reconcile his true stature with his perceived stature? His story is all very reminiscent of a 21-century Kurt Cobain. During the extensive touring, Tim’s management team rents private jets and one magical mansion after another for him to record new music. Despite the amazing circumstances and gorgeous settings, Tim’s head more often than not is in a 15-inch laptop or desktop computer.

By all accounts, Tim was extremely creative. He recognized early on that unlike the other DJs, he did not have to sample vocals and beats, but could create actual EDM songs. He improvised unique tracks, collaborating with a variety of musicians and singers. His song “Levels” became a mainstream crossover hit, yet he released only two full albums (True in 2011 and Stories in 2014) that fueled his touring career. The dramatic ups and downs in the story are punctuated by Avicii’s own music as the soundtrack to the film.

Avicii’s Final Show in Ibiza, 2016

Avicii’s last show was held in iconic island of Ibiza on August 28, 2016. The dramatic footage in the film contrasts his aggravated stress causing a delay to the showtime with the eager faces of the waiting crowd. No wonder he was stressed: Avicii had performed 613 shows in eight years. Watching this film makes Tim’s soul-bearing direct-to-camera interviews more precious since we know as we watch that less than two years after the end of filming, this struggling artist dies at his own hands. Director Levan Tsikurishvili lived with Tim for four years and captured unbelievably close up and intimate conversations. The film arc follows Tim from obscurity to the frenzy of super stardom to early retirement. Little did the filmmaker know when he completed the film in 2017 that he was documenting Avicii’s entire career, not just a first phase.

Levan says, “I wanted to do an emotionally honest film about Tim as a person and not only about Avicii. Everybody knows Avicii but very few people knew Tim. I think this documentary really shows Tim’s struggle and strength of character. Being a worldwide superstar artist is not as easy as it looks on Instagram. When I made the film with Tim, I had no idea he wouldn’t be here with me to talk about it today.“

Consider Seeing Avicii: True Stories

Avicii: True Stories opens Friday, December 14 at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills for a limited run in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration. It definitely deserves the consideration.