Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: 'Good Ol' Freda'

And so we’ve pored over Beatlemania so thoroughly that the only thing left to scrutinize is the band’s secretary. “Who would want to hear the secretary’s story?” Freda Kelly herself asks at the beginning of Good Ol’ Freda. Well, to answer her and any other skeptic, 660 Beatles fans, for starters. Good Ol’ Freda was made on their generous contributions to the film’s Kickstarter campaign. One fan even sold a single strand of George Harrison’s hair on ebay to earn $1,600 of the $58,000 ultimately raised. Well, there’s one story that hasn’t been told in any of the other Beatles documentaries.

That story is also indicative of where Good Ol’ Freda is coming from, because this is really more a story of Beatle fandom than anything else. Freda Kelly was a Beatlemaniac before the guys hired her to run their official fan club and Brian Epstein made her the group’s official secretary. That fan’s adoration is still detectable all these years later. Freda practically squeals with delight when reminiscing about a little dance George Harrison would do while singing “The Sheik of Araby” at the Cavern Club.

For the most part, though, Freda Kelly keeps her cool, which is one of the reasons she held onto her job for such a long time. While Epstein had a notorious habit for sacking employees, Freda was with The Beatles through their entire career partly because she ran a tight ship, but even more crucially because she was unbelievably loyal and respected her boys’ privacy completely. She continues to do that today, refusing to dish dirt on The Beatles even though she probably saw more than her share of weird stuff while in their employ. That’s actually a benefit for Good Ol’ Freda, because with Freda’s tight lips she further distances the film from being just another Beatles documentary. Instead, she explains how dedicated she was to making her fellow fans’ dreams come true, as when she insisted Ringo sleep on a pillow case one young girl sent to the office for that sole purpose (naturally, the fan wanted it back afterward). She talks about The Beatles’ families with great admiration and respect, which is particularly moving when she explains how Elsie Starkey was like a surrogate mum to her. She lets us into her attic to peruse the few bits of priceless memorabilia she kept from the old days: an original press book for the Help! film, a complete set of the fan club exclusive Christmas records, an envelope full of George Harrison’s hair. Just think what that would go for on ebay! But Freda will never know because she would never sell it, not because she takes many trips up to the attic to fondle it but because it would simply be disrespectful to George. Beatlemania was an experience that generated a lot of egos, spotlight grabbers, and exploiters. It’s nice to meet someone who went though it all and remained so humble. In his commentary included on Magnolia’s new blu-ray of the film, director Ryan White (nephew of Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats) explains that Freda’s own daughter claimed she hadn’t heard 95% of the stories in the film! That’s the kind of self-control you want from someone in any organization, and it’s why Freda Kelly is so loved by those who went through The Beatles experience with her. Her lovability comes through well in Good Ol’ Freda, a minor but charming entry in the seemingly bottomless barrel of Beatles-related documents.

The blu-ray and DVDalso include twelve minutes of deleted scenes, a Q&A with her and White from a screening at the Fest for Beatles Fans, a solo interview with Kelly, and a photo gallery. Get them at here:

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