Documentary Film: Good Ol’ Freda

One of the subjects I say that I know way too much about is The Beatles, whose story and its details are very familiar to me, including genuinely trivial aspects and facts. But I was delighted to learn there was one person at the center of the Fab Four’s rise to fame that I had no knowledge of before: Freda Kelly, the subject of this movie, who was the secretary for manager Brian Epstein and carried on with The Beatles after Epstein’s death through the group’s break-up. I’m pleased that this little-known yet pivotal person in the band’s story has finally agreed to have her story told. What’s impressive is how she was barely affected by the tornado of fame she got swept up in, and even as she opens up about her time working with the band, Freda remains loyal to “the boys” and keeps mum about anything that may smack of dirt. Her charm and modesty help make this documentary essential viewing for anyone interested in The Beatles.

TV Documentary: Making the Monkees

In the wake of The Beatles came the US TV knockoff The Monkees, who qualify as “the Pre-Fab four” (a term I copped from the brilliant yet sadly overlooked Beatles parody “The Rutles”). The pop group manufactured to cash-in on the mania surrounding The Beatles are today beloved by fans from that era as if they were a real band, which in a way they became. This Smithsonian Channel examination of how they were created and then rebelled against their masters offers a fascinating glimpse into the way the entertainment business worked back in that era (and in a number of ways still does today) and how success and fame can radically alter what was a formula into a genuine phenomenon and quite compelling real-life story.

Cable TV Movie: Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight

The title to this HBO film is a bit misleading. Ali is not the subject of the movie but rather the subject of the matter around which this quite winning flick revolves: the fighter’s refusal to be drafted into the army on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector, and the legal case it spawned that eventually was decided in 1971 by the Supreme Court – the real subject and milieu of this story. It’s a revelatory look behind the bench at how the court works, then and likely still in many ways now, as well as a rather true-to-life trip back into the times and the pressing issues of that era. Excellent performances, especially by Christopher Plummer as Justice John Harlan, and that aura of realism bring much color to a tale of legal wrangling and procedures.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2013


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