‘In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon’ will leave you feeling groovy

As much about the singer-songwriter’s life now as then, “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon” is an unabashed celebration of musical genius that’s at its best when looking back. Spanning 3 ½ hours, director Alex Gibney spends a bit too much time on Simon today, but it’s still a fitting tribute to a talent who, to quote his song, went looking for America, and had America and indeed the world find him in return.

“Verse one,” as it’s labeled, of this two-part MGM+ presentation features Simon working on his 20th and final album, “Seven Psalms,” dealing with the frustration of hearing loss and the toll exacted on his frail-sounding voice as he quietly lives in Texas with his wife, singer Edie Brickell. (Simon met both Brickell and previous wife Carrie Fisher on “Saturday Night Live,” and producer Lorne Michaels is among the luminaries sharing memories.)

Along the way, Gibney (adding to a musical filmography that includes biographies of Frank Sinatra and James Brown) goes back to Simon’s upbringing in Queens, New York, the formation of his partnership with childhood friend Art Garfunkel, and the belated breakthrough they achieved with “The Sound of Silence,” which, followed by their music’s use in director Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate,” vaulted them into the musical stratosphere.

“I said to myself, ‘My life is irrevocably changed,’” Simon recalls, having attended (and hated) law school for a time before eventually dropping out.

Despite extraordinary success, Simon describes what became “an uneven partnership,” with Simon writing the songs while Garfunkel went off to pursue an acting career (beginning with a role in Nichols’ “Catch-22”), placing stress on their relationship.

An early photo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in "In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon." - Douglas R. Gilbert/MGM+
An early photo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in "In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon." - Douglas R. Gilbert/MGM+

Those tensions came to a head while producing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a vocal showcase for Garfunkel. Notably, Simon & Garfunkel (who, as an amusing footnote, originally went by the label-given name Tom & Jerry) couldn’t repair the fracture despite the appetite for them to do so after their historic reunion concert in Central Park, which attracted an estimated 750,000 people.

Simon also goes out of his way to credit engineer Roy Halee for his contributions to those signature albums, a luxury that Gibney can indulge thanks to the sweeping nature of his canvas.

Simon’s solo career, of course, went on swimmingly from there, with his inquisitive nature leading him to music from across the world, including South Africa, which somewhat controversially provided the foundation for his Grammy-winning album “Graceland.”

While “In Restless Dreams” (a title drawn from a lyric in “The Sound of Silence”) will leave several of Simon’s songs echoing through one’s head for anyone familiar with them, Gibney nicely illustrates his multifaceted talents, including the comedic flair he exhibited on “Saturday Night Live” and his occasional forays into acting.

Incorporating previously unseen footage, “In Restless Dreams” labors a bit to achieve a balance between interviewing Simon about his creative process and getting him to reminisce, 60 years after the album “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.” put him this path to immortality.

“Music comes out of you from where you don’t know,” Simon notes.

Wherever it came from, the music that Simon produced – with Garfunkel and without him – yields a documentary that will leave anyone weaned on those songs feeling groovy all over again.

“In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon” premieres March 17 on MGM+.

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