Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Good Ol' Freda" review

I recently took the time to watch Good Ol' Freda, the charming indie documentary released last year about The Beatles' faithful and beloved secretary, Freda Kelly. Several things stood out.
First, this is Beatles history that we really haven't encountered before, or not in meaningful detail anyway. Yes, a chapter of the Fabs' story that hasn't already been painstakingly probed in books, dramatized in movies and plays, and otherwise combed through and commodified. It's strange. A small miracle even. As you learn in the film, the explanation is that Freda is someone who has long valued privacy and loyalty over the limelight and the almighty dollar. She probably would've felt she had betrayed The Beatles' trust by cashing in early and often on her unique vantage point. And all these years later, Freda only agreed to do this project at the urging of her young grandson. Who could find fault there?
At the same time, there is an unmistakable streak of melancholy to Good Ol' Freda, underscoring that integrity can come with material costs. Freda hasn't penned a smash memoir. She hasn't spent her life busily on the hunt for the next media op. Right after The Beatles split, she simply gave away most of the merchandise and memorabilia she had accumulated over the years. As a result, this would-be minor celebrity has had to provide for herself in that most familiar, blase manner: as a 9-5er. A 9-5 secretary no less. True, this was to a certain degree by design. It doesn't seem (seem) much out of step with the path that Freda claims she wanted for herself. But, watching Good Ol' Freda, it's hard to elude the "what could've been" angle. Might she have been able to reap some measure of financial security through her former life while still maintaing her sense of integrity? Perhaps, perhaps not. Regardless, the broader point is that the film almost forces you to consider the question.
Last, and most rewarding, it's a treat to watch and listen to Freda as she - fondly but with a notably casual tone - revisits her past. Memories like seeing The Beatles nearly 200 times at the Cavern Club (she was a fan first) or developing a deep bond with Ringo's mother or forcing John down onto one knee as part of an apology he owed her. It's wild. From basically the start of the Fabs' run to the end, she was right there in the thick of things - not just an up-close witness to history but an active participant. She was a "family member" to the boys, a confidante, an object of respect and adoration. Yet, to Freda - this impossibly down-to-earth woman - it was just part of her life. She has to be the luckiest Beatles fan who ever lived.

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