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There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Good Ol’ Freda.
Beyond the quantifiable number of universally beloved albums that the Beatles recorded, another, less easily identified metric can be found: the hunger of the group's fans for anything and everything that even has the remotest connection to the group. I can’t imagine a single other group in the history of pop music for whom a character as peripherally far flung as the head of their fan club would warrant a feature length documentary, and yet here we are, with Good Ol’ Freda.
It might be difficult to imagine a time when official fan-clubs were used by anyone other than ticket scalpers looking to get in on early bird seating for the next Miley Cyrus show, but back before the internet gave bands a place to disseminate info and forums for fanatics to get gossipy in, they were one of the best ways to keep tabs on your favorite groups. Actively maintained by someone whose full-time job was to read and answer letters, hound band members for autographs, and most importantly, write and publish a newsletter, fan clubs were a complete necessity in the less-connected past. For the Beatles, since back before they put out their first album even, that person was Freda Kelly, and it turns out she was *very* good at her job.
Freda didn’t found the fan club, but she took it over from a friend back when the pre-Ringo Beatle boys, fresh off their two-year musical tour of Hamburg’s nefarious nightclubs, were just starting to pack folks in down at the Cavern Club. A regular at that dank fire trap of a venue, Freda (who claims to have been to well over half of the 292 shows that the band played there) was eventually brought in by the band’s manager Brian Epstein, who recognized her dedication and professionalism, to be the secretary for the band. She was just seventeen. It wouldn’t be long until Freda was taking fawning headlines calling her "The Most Coveted Girl in the World" in stride. In fact, given that she had almost total access to the band, the headlines weren’t all that hyperbolic.
What comes through in the film is that Freda’s somewhat soft spoken sincerity and grounded humility was her greatest asset to the band. Sure, she dutifully replied to every letter that came across the desk at Beatles HQ, making sure to distribute snippets of the requested Beatles hair into the correct envelopes to go out to members, but she had a great sense of decorum and was sincerely protective of “her boys.” The problem with this otherwise desirable character trait is that Freda, even decades after the fact, stays true to her old position as semi-secret keeper. She’s a company-woman to the end, it would seem. She’s a wonderfully endearing documentary subject and it’ll melt your heart to watch her coyly grin while wistfully (regretfully?) denying that she went on dates with any Beatles, but her reticence to really dish anything even resembling “dirt” on her old friends hinders the films ability to add a lot of specific illuminations to the otherwise very well documented mythology that is “The Beatles Story”.
That said, there’s definitely enough in this bright documentary to warrant a solid recommendation, especially if you don’t have that much background on the Beatles’ fascinating early Liverpool years. The producers did a great job of rounding up tons of wonderfully candid era appropriate photos (many of which I presume were from Freda’s personal archives), and it’s fun to play “Spot Freda!” whenever a shot from The Cavern pops up. There’s some frankly understandable cost cutting going on when a film ostensibly about the Beatles is only repping a grand total four songs by the group, but rest assured those four tracks didn’t break the soundtrack budget and the film is rounded out with both influential and regionally related gems. While I wouldn’t call Good Ol' Freda required viewing by any stretch, it’s astounding to me that somehow there are still these odd little untapped golden veins of Beatles history, even though we’re talking about one of the most overexposed bands ever.
Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.