When will Beatlemania’s secretary get a documentary?
Most rock ‘n’ roll documentaries follow the same pattern. The band’s humble beginnings, meteoric rise to fame, the descent into drugs and scandal, and ending with a heartwarming “Here’s where they are now.” Good Ol’ Freda eschews the usual format by focusing not so much on the band, but on someone who was by their side through good times and bad.
In England in 1961, Freda Kelly was a teenager who went to a local rock club to see a band perform. She and her friends became enamored with the band’s edgy new sound, and they got to know the band members after the shows. The decision was made to start an official fan club for the band, in case they hit the big time. Freda, with her secretarial skills, got the job of running the fan club, a job she kept for the next ten years.
That band? Only the Beatles.
Good Ol’ Freda is a low-key slice-of-life take on the rock documentary, but that’s not a bad thing. Throughout the movie, we get reminisces of Freda as an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances. All the big moments from Beatles history get checked, some that are so well-known they’re practically modern folklore, but now we see them through Freda’s eyes, and her descriptions allow for a you-are-there experience.
Yes, it’s mostly a “talking head” documentary, mostly with Freda in her home, speaking directly to the camera, with only a handful of behind-the-camera questions from director Ryan White. Other members of the music industry of the era and Freda’s family chime in with occasional comments. Mostly, though, it’s all Freda. Friendship with four of the world’s greatest entertainers must have rubbed off on her, because she’s a natural storyteller. Highlights include a treasure trove of Beatles memorabilia in Freda’s attic, Freda’s efforts to make sure she got autographs and even hair clippings to send to fan club members, and her friendships with the Beatles’ families. The Beatles themselves gave permission for their songs to be used in the movie, which of course makes for a perfect accompanying score.
While other rock docs sell themselves on being “tell-all,” Good Ol’ Freda takes a different approach. One of the movie’s most talked-about moments is when the director asks Freda if she ever dated any of the Beatles, only to have her respond, “That’s personal.” On one hand, it shows remarkable restraint on the part of the documentary to take the high road and not go the sleazy reality-show scandal route. On the other hand, she didn’t say “no,” did she?
The widescreen picture is good, archival footage is occasionally grainy, but the new footage is clean and colorful. Audio in 5.1 makes the most of the classic tunes, and the dialogue comes through clear as well. Although Freda said she’d said all she wanted in the movie, she comes back for a commentary with the director, to provide more great anecdotes. Other bonus features include interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer.
What if you’re not a Beatles fan? Certainly you’ll be missing out on a lot of the context, but you’ll likely still find a lot to enjoy here, just because Freda is that likable.
On an episode of The Simpsons, there was a gag about Ringo Starr answering all his fan mail years later. The truth is, Freda Kelly’s the one who answered all those letters. For years, that effort went unknown, or, worse, unappreciated. Thanks to Good Ol’ Freda, she can know be applauded for her efforts as part of the legend of the Beatles.