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Good Ol’ Freda

Posted by martinteller on October 29, 2013

In 1961, 17-year-old Liverpool secretary Freda Kelly went to lunch at the Cavern Club and found The Beatles.  She quickly became a fan, seeing them play upwards of 100 times there and getting to know the lads.  She fell into the position of president of the (then small) fan club, and soon Brian Epstein asked her to be the band’s secretary.  From their first appearance on the pop charts to the dissolution of the band, Freda was the interface between The Beatles and their fans.  A modest and private woman, she has resisted telling her stories until now.

The Beatles are one of the most heavily-documented phenomena in modern pop culture history.  I haven’t even seen the massive 10-hour Anthology miniseries and yet I already felt I knew everything there was to know about them.  Would the perspective of their secretary shed any new light on the Fab Four?  The answer is: eh, sort of.  Freda’s anecdotes are enjoyable and add a bit of entertaining detail here and there.  But nothing is surprising or revelatory.  Yes, it’s funny that she got Ringo Starr to sleep on a fan’s pillowcase for a night, but what does this add to the Beatles’ legacy?  We already knew they had crazy, devotional fans.  It’s rather well known that Epstein had a temper, and the particulars of one of his tantrums does little to enhance our understanding of him.  If we imagine the story of The Beatles as a coloring book, then what the film does is fill in a few tiny overlooked white spots… with the colors we already expected to be there.  The effect is pleasant, but unnecessary.

It’s not a movie about The Beatles.  Too much is assumed to be already known by the audience for that, and perhaps rightly so.  We don’t need another doc about The Beatles.  And it’s not really a movie about Freda Kelly, either.  We catch glimpses of interesting facets about her life but only glimpses.  Her marriage and divorce, the death of her son, her apparently strict father, her relationship with Starr’s mother… either Freda is too discreet to discuss these in-depth or director Ryan White is not concerned with exploring them.  So the movie is about “Freda and the Beatles”, and there’s just not a whole lot of compelling material there.

The movie is organized chronologically, and there is no attempt to find a narrative throughline.  It simply hops from one story to another, going year by year.  Oddly, the movie starts getting rushed right when the Beatles story gets really interesting, around the recording of Sgt Pepper’sMost likely this is because that’s when Freda’s personal involvement with them was really diminishing, as they traveled around and started going their separate ways, not popping into the office to sign autographs for fans very often.  We do get Freda’s interesting insight that it was Epstein’s death that began the process of dissolving the group.  But beyond that, the film races towards the finish without much else to say.

It is, as I said, a very pleasant documentary.  Freda is a nice lady who the viewer can warm up to easily.  The anecdotes she tells are often humorous.  I also applaud White (making his feature-length debut) for letting still photos be still, an attribute that seems to be more and more rare in modern documentaries.  But while enjoyable, the film adds little to our understanding of The Beatles, often just presenting the same old information we already know.  And it doesn’t paint enough of a picture of Freda to make her an especially interesting character.  While there are delightful little tidbits to be found, this movie ultimately left me unsatisfied.  Rating: Fair (60)


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