Good Ol’ Freda (film review)
Good Ol’ Freda (2013)
1 hr. 26 mins.
Starring: Freda Kelly and The Beatles
Directed by: Ryan White
MPAA Rating: PG
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
Globally, it seems that the most ardent Beatles fans, females in particular, fancy themselves as the greatest of the Fab Four’s individual worshipers that ever worn out their ‘Rubber Soul’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’s albums to death on their turntables. Sure, there are knowledgeable Beatles fans out there from yesterday and today that could probably tell you what Paul McCartney’s shoe size was in 1964 or what particular brand of breakfast cereal that John Lennon fancied in 1967. As for the countless Beatles-related films and documentaries that ever existed, naturally there are some that have more elaborate details, livelier concert footage and provocative anecdotes than others.
In filmmaker Ryan White’s intimate and deliciously cheeky documentary ‘Good Ol’ Freda’, we get a refreshing and insightful inside look at one down-to-earth woman who could honestly proclaim that SHE was perhaps The Beatles ultimate Number One fan on the planet. Freda Kelly lived the fantasy of every teenybopper girl in England and around the world in the 1960s. She had the opportunity to regularly rub shoulders with the heralded British band from their beginning days of obscurity to the world-wide frenzy that was the suffocating experience known as Beatlemania. In the ten years that The Beatles revolutionized the music scene, Freda was there with them for eleven years (she arrived before Ringo, whom Freda’s endearingly calls ‘Richie’, even made a mark with this group).
At the tender age of 17 in 1961, Freda would hold the trust and secrecy of the besieged four moptops during their rise from humble beginnings to the incredible insanity that engulfed them in the music industry. ‘Good Ol’ Freda’ certainly does not have the sophistication or top-notch presentation of what one would expect to be a befitting tribute to the iconic Beatles. However, much like the movies subject matter that is Freda Kelly, ‘Good Ol’ Freda’ is a humbling, charming and intimate showcase for a proud mother and grandmother nostalgically recalling her adolescent work-related duties as The Beatles’ adorable Girl Friday.
As a working-class teen-ager from Liverpool in 1961, Freda was lucky to be selected from a typing pool to go on and work for the brilliant but sometimes moody music promoter and manager Brian Epstein. Of course, Epstein was kick-starting the career of the then unknown leather jacket-wearing Beatles. As Epstein’s personal secretary and assistant, Freda got to mingle and kid around with the Beatles that were gradually making some noticeable noise around the various places where they were playing their infectious gigs. In no time at all, Freda was looked upon as The Beatles ‘honorary kid sister’ as the band-mates’ families even cottoned to her with opened arms.
The ultimate rush came when Freda was able to secure the position as president of The Beatles’ official fan club. It was during this period that Freda flourished in being the main source of connection to the band that screaming girls everywhere wished were in her lucky shoes. Her time-consuming newsletters were a welcomed read for the legions of overhyped giddy groupies. Freda would get outrageous requests from some fan wanting a piece of McCartney’s hair to someone requesting that she send along the pillow case that Ringo may have slept on. The demands were laughable but Freda understood the crazed passion because she too was a major fan of The Beatles despite her privileged inside track to their private and professional lives.
To this very day, Freda is respectful and professional enough not to spill any behind-the-scenes unflattering gossip on the legendary Liverpool lads. In fact, she even shunned the opportunity in capitalising off of her personalised Beatles-related photos and other merchandise and valuables that could have made her a wealthy woman ten times over. Perhaps this is why Freda Kelly was so revered by Epstein and his famous singing clients because she knew loyalty and the price of being the dutiful doll that directed traffic for her famous celebrated employers?
The reason why Freda breaks her silence at all in this cozy documentary is because she wants to let her treasured grandson (the offspring of her late son) know that grandma was once ‘somebody important’. Talking heads from Freda’s grown daughter to other colleagues discuss how genuine, affable and devoted Freda was in her service to catering to The Beatles. Even Ringo Starr’s ending cameo offers conformation on how near and dear that Freda was to him and his other musical mates of yesteryear.
White peppers ‘Good Ol’ Freda’ with an assortment of archival material such as press clippings, stock footage and never seen pictures of Freda and her accompaniment with the various Beatles in staged poses. Interestingly, Freda is urged to take part in The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ movie where she’s featured in the bus sequence. Clearly, the guys found Freda so lovable in return and repaid her by their generous attention towards her. Additionally, what is quite appealing is White’s usage of not just Beatles’ music in the background but other kinds of 60s sounds-of-the-day that help Freda (and some oldsters in the audience) reminisce about the aforementioned Beatlemania timeline gone by.
‘Good Ol’ Freda’ is a modest account of one common woman’s revealing chance to walk down memory lane and rightfully claim the tasty and turbulent times of her distinctive youth when she had a formidable front seat to the pop cultural phenomenon of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the cherished foursome whose sword she would fall on in a sacrificial heartbeat.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: