Film Review: The Bee Gees – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
Director: Frank Marshall
Cast: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Andy Gibb, Lulu, Eric Clapton, Mykael S. Riley, Noel Gallagher, Peter Brown, Vince Melouney, Chris Martin, Nick Jonas
Running Time: 110
Australian Distributor: Universal Pictures Australia
The Bee Gees emerged in Australia in the wake of The Beatles, parlaying their seamlessly blended three-part harmonies into some of the most gorgeous ballads of the era, spanning the bridge between folk and pop in songs like “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “Massachusetts,” “Words,” “I’ve Just Gotta Get a Message to You” and “I Started a Joke.”
Sadly, of the four brothers, Barry Gibb is the last man standing since the deaths of Maurice, Robin and youngest Andy, who had his own ascendancy as a teen pop heartthrob before struggling with addiction issues, succumbing to a heart attack at age 30 in 1988. There are interesting perspectives from Noel Gallagher and Nick Jonas as far as singing with fellow family members is concerned.
Barry serves as the documentary’s connective tissue, reflecting back over the years from his home in Miami. But all four brothers are well-represented in pre-existing interviews, and the extensive availability of home movies and performance clips dating as far back as their teen years in Australia makes this an archive-rich time capsule.
For younger audiences unfamiliar with the Bee Gees’ pre-Saturday Night Fever output, the section covering their initial elevation to stardom in the ’60s will be a revelation. It’s a regrettable side effect of having to cover so much musical ground that the fast-moving film doesn’t spend more time on the group’s stellar back catalogue from that decade and into the early ’70s, before “Jive Talkin’” marked a chameleonic shift in their sound.
Naturally, the focal point is the big change in their career with Saturday Night Fever. The masterstroke came from a phone call from manager Robert Stigwood about writing the soundtrack. The film, starring John Travolta, would change their careers with a best-selling soundtrack. The film shows the turning point when Barry discovered his falsetto on the song “Nights Of Broadway”.
“Stayin’ Alive” would become a very important song, especially in New York at the time of the Son of Sam serial killings.
Interest would eventually wane following a backlash to their “disco” leanings. Chris Martin (Coldplay) said they were too successful. In the early 1980s the band made the point of writing songs for other musicians with great success and determination. They were responsible for classics such as “Woman In Love”, “Guilty”, “Islands In The Stream”, “Chain Reaction”, “Heartbreaker” and many others.
The film makes great use of the archives including footage from recording sessions, concerts, television appearances, and home videos. This is in addition to interviews with other musicians and record executives. All in all, the footage gets weaved in nicely to perform a portrait of a the band. Naturally, Barry gets very emotional when discussing Andy. They had a similar look and he was so young when he passed away.
Far more than a traditional rockumentary, we’re left with a celebration in the best sense. The film grants new listeners the ability to be wowed with the breadth of output, and old fans can reflect on the band in a new light. We’re invited to look beyond the glitz and gloss and find musical sophistication that continues to resonate with contemporary productions.
Director Frank Marshall presents this story with great musicality, taking seriously the craft of what was done rather than focusing on the betrayals and backstabbing.
The Bee Gees were gifted and incredibly prolific songwriters across a number of genres — the end credits note that they penned more than 1,000 songs, including 20 No. 1 hit singles in the U.S. and U.K.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is a film that doesn’t just showcase the brilliance of one of the great pop acts of the 20th century but also in how they influence artists and culture as well as the story of a family who use music to bring them together. While the film doesn’t touch upon every subject, the film does succeed in showing why they mattered then and still matter despite the fact that only one of the brothers is alive and is carrying on their legacy.
Andy Gibb – passed away from heart inflammation on March 10, 1988
Maurice Gibb – passed from complications from a surgery on Jan 20, 2003
Robin Gibb – passed from cancer on May 20, 2012
Barry Gibb is still alive and would rather have them all back and no hit songs.
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