Good Ol' Freda
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Freda Kelly was just a shy Liverpudlian teenager when she was asked to work for a local band hoping to make it big. Though she had no concept of how far they would go, Freda had faith in The Beatles from the beginning and The Beatles had faith in her. Many people came in and out of the band's circle as they grew to international stardom, but Freda remained a staple because of her unfaltering loyalty and dedication. As The Beatles' devoted secretary and friend, Freda was there as history unfolded; she was witness to the evolution - advances and setbacks, breakthroughs and challenges - of the greatest band in history. For the first time in 50 years, Freda shares her story.
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* On August 10, 2013, "Good Ol' Freda" was screened at the Fest for Beatles Fans at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago. Although the film made its world premiere in March 2013 at the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival in Austin, Texas - the screening in Chicago was the first in front of a huge audience of Fab Four fans, many who traveled thousands of miles to attend, including former Beatles' Fan Club Secretary Freda Kelly herself.
* Director Ryan White's pitch when he approached the surviving Beatles and their wives through their executives at Apple Records was straight-forward: "This is a film about a woman named Freda Kelly who never sold out the Beatles." Translation: If you're looking for a kiss-and-tell documentary about the dirty laundry involving the world's most popular rock and roll band - look elsewhere.
* FEATURE FILM (86 minutes): "Good Ol' Freda" feels like a product approved by the Beatles and released by Apple (even though Magnolia Entertainment is its distributor). It is not a traditional tabloid-style-exposé that critics demand before they anoint it with showers of praise. Instead, the film's appeal has everything to do with the adorability of blue-eyed, brown-haired Freda herself - and her almost pathological, 50-year-aversion to talking about the Beatles. It boasts a killer soundtrack filled with Beatles songs and other material licensed from Apple (stuff that is near impossible for outsiders to obtain), along with images previously never seen.
* The film is visually constructed like a scrapbook of images, whereby the camera is in constant motion, panning and zooming for emphasis, combining interviews with Freda, now 68, going back to visit old haunting grounds in Liverpool (including the Empire Theater, the inside of Ringo's house, etc.) - and wildly wonderful black and white and color footage, some of it familiar (old newsreels) - and some of it brand new (personal stills and clips unearthed from storage). There are interviews with others who were there when it all began, including Tony Barrow, the Beatles' first press secretary (1962-1968) and Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats.
* Freda Kelly's bond with the Beatles turned into iron when she became the primary conduit between the band and their families, making weekly visits to their homes. Her loyalty never wavered, despite receiving at least six offers to write tell-all books about the in-fighting and the affairs she saw - stuff that, along with her personal collection of memorabilia (most of which she gave away in 1974) - would have made her rich. Today, she still works as an office secretary for an unnamed company to make a living. She still won't talk trash about the Beatles - and her motives for going public, albeit in a non-salacious, non-headline-grabbing way - are revealed late in the film.
* Freda was so hide-bound (despite receiving numerous bribes for information from the British tabloids) - that her own children were almost clueless about their mother's young life until she was well past middle-age. (After the first U.S. screening of "Good Ol' Freda," Freda's daughter Rachel Norris told director Ryan White that "95 percent of the film was completely new to me.")
* The film's final 15 minutes are the most emotionally powerful and gut-wrenching, as the band breaks up - and as the deaths of Brian Epstein, John Lennon, George Harrison, all of the Beatles' parents, two of their wives and many other members of the group's inner circle - are re-counted. Most tragic of all, but unfortunately only alluded to, is the recent death of Freda Kelly's own son Timothy, who goaded her for years to tell her story. His death, along with the birth of her grandson by her daughter Rachel, reluctantly forced Freda to re-think her 50 years of silence.
* Ringo Starr thanks Freda on camera during the film's closing credits, but not Paul McCartney, despite Paul's full endorsement and cooperation. (Without it, no actual Beatle songs would have made it into the final cut. Paul's brother Michael McCartney provided several previously unseen photographs for the film - and Paul's stepmother Angie also agreed to be interviewed on camera.)
* Besides music by the Beatles themselves, the film's spectacular soundtrack includes songs by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, the Marvelettes, the Isley Brothers, the Searchers, the Shirelles, Fats Domino, the Drifters, the Cookies and Ketty Lester. (Ironically, Ketty Lester's "Love Letters" - proved to be the most difficult song to license - despite arguably being one of the least familiar names to audiences today.)
* FEATURE FILM WITH COMMENTARY (86 minutes): The same as above but with commentary from Freda Kelly and director Ryan White. This commentary is so good that I watched the film twice, transforming this product - along with the other special features below - into a 221-minute bonanza (3 hours and 41 minutes). According to White, Freda saw the Beatles perform more than 180 times at the Cavern from 1961 to 1963, mostly during the group's lunchtime sessions. She was such a familiar figure that the group knew her even before manager Brian Epstein plucked the then 17-year-old teen to become the band's fan club secretary (1961-1972). In Freda's mind, she was hired to help a "local band" she already liked - handling mail, producing a monthly newsletter and responding to fans - nothing more.
* Despite ultimately handling thousands of fan letters, Freda Kelly still had ZERO idea how famous the Beatles had become - until July 10, 1964 - the day she walked with the Beatles and their families to the balcony of the Liverpool civic center - (it was a welcome home reception held in conjunction with the Northern film premiere of "A Hard Day's Night") - and was hit with a wall of noise from 200,000 screaming fans jammed into the square and onto the adjoining streets below. That experience (which in the film includes Freda returning to that old town hall balcony) - took her breath away.
* The commentary track also includes Freda describing how amazed and touched she was when she learned that the surviving Beatles and their wives had given her four songs to use in "Good Ol' Freda" - "I Saw Her Standing There," "Love Me Do," "I Feel Fine," "I Will" - as well as a long audio cut from the Beatles' 1963 Christmas Record that opens the film. She still seems unable to believe that the surviving Beatles and Apple executives - 50 years later - remember her warmly, and on the commentary track, she goes out of her way to personally thank Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison for approving the use of the band's material.
* This is why I say that "Good Ol' Freda" - even without the mega-million-dollar budget of, let's say, "The Beatles Anthology" - still feels like an authorized Beatles' production. Again, remember the director's original pitch: "This is a film about a woman who never sold out the Beatles." In my view, any deviation from this would have caused the doors at Apple to be slammed in Ryan White's face.
* DELETED SCENES (12:36): There are five (5) deleted scenes, the most noteworthy for me includes Freda talking about her own marriage in 1968 while the Beatles were in India - as well as what happened when she learned of John Lennon's murder in December 1980.
* POST-SCREENING Q & A WITH FREDA AND FILMMAKERS AT THE FEST FOR BEATLES FANS IN CHICAGO (22:44): There isn't a lot of new information here, making it an almost dispensable feature. However, unless you were there (I was), you wouldn't know that after the screening, the audience was drenched in tears and could barely compose themselves beyond praising Freda repeatedly. Mark Hudson, rock impresario / producer / tutor and former member of the Hudson Brothers pop group, serenaded Freda with a short verse from the Beatles' "I Will." However, this has been cut from the Q & A footage, possibly because of licensing issues. Despite the dearth of information from this mostly "Thank You, Freda, We Love You, Freda" event - the post-screening footage is a good historical record of Freda Kelly (who is as adorable on stage as she is in the film) - meeting a huge crowd of hard core Beatle fans who showed up just for her. Festival chief Mark Lapidos christens the occasion as being among the most memorable in his 40 years of hosting Beatle conventions in the U.S.
* INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR RYAN WHITE (11:17): This outstanding interview reveals the painstaking efforts to get "Good Ol' Freda" made with an initial $50,000 in donations raised from a Kickstarter campaign. After the surviving Beatles and their wives signed off on the project, the word got out and doors opened everywhere, enriching the film's content, expediting its makers' ability to get more footage elsewhere and to license songs by artists from competing record labels. (Most of these songs were later covered by the Beatles on their "Please, Please Me" album released in the U.K. in March 1963 by Parlophone - and on their "Introducing the Beatles" album released in America in January 1964 by Vee-Jay Records.)
* These successes added momentum and a sense of inevitability that "Good Ol' Freda" would become a reality in just three years. (Contextual note: In 2012, the makers of the AMC television drama, "Mad Men," reportedly paid $250,000 to Apple to use less than two minutes of "Tomorrow Never Knows" from the Beatles' album, "Revolver." Without saying how much, director Ryan White infers on the previously mentioned commentary track that NO WAY did his production have to fork over millions to use the four Beatle songs, the lengthy audio cut from the Beatles' 1963 Christmas Record - where Freda is directly mentioned - and for the footage and stills which also appear in the film.)
* PHOTO GALLERY: This section features eleven (11) striking images of Freda, including a 1968 congratulatory wedding telegram sent to her by John and Cynthia (Powell) Lennon and George and Patti (Boyd) Harrison.
* TRAILER (2:31): This theatrical trailer was issued by Magnolia Entertainment in conjunction with the Motion Picture Association of America. It can be viewed all over the Internet.
* What "Good Ol' Freda" lacks in new information is made up, in my view - with a surprisingly emotional story about a shy little secretary's personal recollections of being in the center of a culturally and historically important hurricane - and how she got to stay there for 11 years. In the end, this film feels like a sparkling, five-star gift for Beatles fans around the world.
And like most huge Beatles fans I've watched many documentaries, good and bad, about them.
And just when I thought I had seen it all comes this breath of fresh air.
A true gem.
Amazing to see the rise of the group from a humble perspective.
A MUST see!
A piece of history never told before from a very private person who never wrote a book or spoke publically about the Beatles until now. She was the Beatles personal secretary for eleven years, the Beatles were together for ten. She was friends with them before they were famous; she respected their privacy and only tells this story because she realized it should be told for the fans and for her grandson to be proud of her. She's humble; she intensely loyal to the Beatles and to this day respects their privacy. She was a fan then and is a fan now.
Watch the special features, Freda is an amazing person with the conviction of always taking the moral higher ground. At one point Freda's daughter states that she didn't know 95% of what was in this documentary.
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Photos and videos I have never seen.
A VERY warm personality
Thanks for the memories
That was a dream job for Freda.