Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Drunk on Foolish Pleasures: Good Ol' Freda
I saw the new documentary Good Ol’ Freda with the best possible audience: thousands of Beatles fans at an annual fan convention last month. Many of the people in the audience had actually helped finance the film through Kickstarter. It was something. Good Ol’ Freda made me indescribably happy.
Eventually, (spoiler alert!) The Beatles broke up. The fan club shut down. Freda went back to being a regular secretary, a job she still holds to this day. She had always been a private person, reluctant to talk about her past; she remains the only member of The Beatles’ inner circle to refrain from cashing in with some sort of tell-all book. She was very reluctant to even participate in the documentary.
After The Beatles broke up, Freda could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even millions, by selling all of the Beatles material in her possession. She gave it all away, for free, to their fans.
One would expect a Beatle-loving audience to respond positively to this film; yet what I experienced that afternoon was “way beyond compare.” The audience reaction was overwhelming and all encompassing. At first, I thought I was the only one being so deeply affected by the film, but it became increasingly clear as the screening went on that the whole audience was experiencing what can only be described as (to use a Beatles-era expression) a “happening,” “love-in,” or “human be-in.”
We dug it the most, baby.
What makes the film special? One word: Freda. As the film explores her life, we witness just how kind, caring, and giving another person can be. We experience a ninety-minute tutorial on our better selves. As the film goes along, we quickly intuit that while the Fab Four connection may help “sell” the film, Good Ol’ Freda has very little to do with the Beatles at all. It is the story of one extraordinary person placed in very extraordinary circumstances.
Here’s one example of what makes Freda Kelly so special: When the fan club officially broke up, she took home all of the remaining unanswered fan mail. Some nights she would answer many letters, other nights only a few, or none. It took her the better part of four years to finish, but she personally answered all of those letters. Every single one.
The documentary features four Beatles songs on the soundtrack, plus snippets from their Christmas albums. Apple is not known to license much of the Beatles song catalog for films; it is a measure of the affection that the surviving Beatles still hold for Freda that they allowed this film to use these songs...for free.
Freda Kelly is a very private person. After a screening of the film at the SXSW Film Festival, her own daughter told the director that 75% of the film was information about her mother that she never knew. Often, when Freda is interviewed in the documentary, she will refuse to answer a question, explaining, “that’s private.” In our TMZ culture, that is so unusual, and I love Freda Kelly for it.
When fans wrote asking for autographs, it was up to Freda to procure them. In the documentary, she recounts that whenever the four Beatles met at Brian Epstein’s office, she would always be there with a pile of things for them to sign during their meeting. Freda was always sweet, but firm, and the boys would always oblige. Once a fan sent in a pillowcase, requesting that Ringo sleep on it and then send it back. Freda waited for Ringo to spend a night at home, then asked his mum to make sure he slept on that pillowcase and autograph it. Incredible.
After the screening, the filmmakers, with the real Freda Kelly, took the stage for a Q&A. One woman in the crowd stood to announce that she had been coming to the Fest for Beatles Fans for 34 years, and that this screening was the single best event she had ever witnessed at the convention. This is a very special film about a very special lady, and I urge you to see it.
Limited theatrical play dates and ITunes/On-Demand availability begin THIS FRIDAY!