The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
Director: Frank Marshall
Diamond Docs / White Horse Pictures / HBO Documentary Films / HBO Max
Oh, I love the Bee Gees! Wasn’t always the case. As a kid I feel like I was trained to laugh at them – via Kenny Everett and later SNL, via almost anyone’s disdain for only their disco-era, or their sixties pop songs. And then, grudgingly, some respect was offered, acknowledged. They were a songwriting force.
This compilation of the early hits – that’s probably what won me over. Gotta Get A Message To You, To Love Somebody, I Started A Joke…what songs. What utter, complete songs!
And I never had a problem with the disco era – I love all that stuff too. There’s some cheese, I don’t love ever song by this band, but I haven’t heard every song by this band. There’s still some gold in them there hills I’d say. And bit by bit I hear the old albums and find new favourites.
So, all that is to say that this brand new documentary film is a joy. Not merely a guilty pleasure, but an absolute joy. Just the share breadth and dominance of their hits. One of the biggest bands in the world with a lasting legacy. But add in the power struggles, the dynamics of being a family band, the managing of egos and the added fragility of being a family band, brothers including a set of twins that must look up to the older bro. Well, now the oldest is the last man standing and as the title tells us, Barry’s bereft and this is told as very much his story, his loss, his lasting legacy. And how he says he’d trade it all to have his brothers still by his side.
They weren’t always by his side though – Robin left early only to return when his solo career flopped. Maurice became the glue, the one to make the jokes and mend the fences and slip into the background as Barry and Robin fought over the microphone and the songwriting control.
But those hits just kept on coming. From the 60s folk and pop to the 1970s – such huge fans of gospel and soul and capable of writing some of the best lasting soul balladry of the last 50 years.
So on one level this film is a solid chronology of the band but where it gets interesting – even for only having one lasting voice – is when the band’s own story crosses paths with the disco genre and music history; here sociology comes into play and we learn about how racist and homophobic disco-hatred was – then some white boy pop stars came in and owned the charts in disco’s dying days. This music had been hugely popular in the gay clubs and black neighbourhoods and ignored by the redneck idiots. There were anti-disco rallies and record burnings and the Bee Gees were at the centre of the storm as the most visible (viable) disco stars.
As I get older the music of the Bee Gees suits me more and means more to me. As I get older the backstory of bands, the soap-opera, the drama, it becomes important to me; I like the music and I love musicians and that’s always number one – but bands like ABBA, The Beatles, The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, they intrigue me still because of the drama and rivalries, the in-fighting and implosions. That’s what keeps me going back to not just the record collection but the DVDs, the bookshelf, the documentaries.
The Bee Gees’ fascinating story is as good as any in pop. And the band’s music, at its very best, is some of the greatest pop music of all time. The sheer number of hits – written for the band and for associated acts – is a phenomenon. This film does well to chart all of that.
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