Thursday, May 02, 2013

Hot Docs - Good Ol' Freda [2013, Dir. Ryan White, UK]

Good Ol' Freda
  Good Ol' Freda

I was hoping to have gone out to a few Hot Docs screenings by this point but unfortunately due to other things [nephew's birthday over the weekend, picking up my new 'used' car a few nights ago] I wasn't able to. I was however able to view the screener for the documentary Good Ol' Freda yesterday evening and I very much enjoyed it. Produced and directed by Ryan White, it's a scrap-book look at the fandom of The Beatles from one insider who perhaps many people weren't familiar with. The Freda being referred to in the title of the documentary is Liverpudlian Freda Kelly who worked as both the band's secretary and fan club manager over the span of eleven years starting at the age of 17 years old, from the band's infancy playing The Cavern in Liverpool, through the band's international stardom, and eventually to the band's breakup in the early 1970's.

Interspersing old photos of Freda, the band, the band's families and other notable figures like Beatles manager Brian Epstein, with stock footage from the 60's, Freda, in her humble, modest, warm tone provides commentary throughout the documentary. It's a thoroughly fascinating year-by-year account of her eleven years with the band and how integral of a role she played in the machinery of Beatlemania. As the band's secretary she was especially important to the families of the individual Beatles, acting as a link for them to John, Paul, George, and Ringo, when The Beatles started to travel internationally. But it was through The Beatles Fan Club where Freda was it's manager where she perhaps made a stronger mark. Through the fan club, she worked with a small staff and devoted many hours to responding to thousands and thousands of letters from fans, as well as to writing the band's newsletter The Beatles Book. The time that she dedicated to the fan club was something she held important because as a fan herself of The Beatles, she genuinely related to how the fans felt. There's a point in the documentary when Freda climbed the ladder into her attic to dig through old Beatles' memorabilia and the collection she amassed for herself, including many of The Beatles Book, looked like a treasure trove. For someone who had had the ultimate job that any female Beatles fan would have died for, Freda was portrayed as a diligent, loyal, strong-willed, and hard-working employee. She admits to having crushes on each of the Beatles on any particular day but in the end she was there to do a job, one that she had loved.

The Beatles coming to an end was shown to be a bitter-sweet ending for Freda, the closing of The Beatles fan club and saying good-bye to a period of her life which she very much loved and would miss but which opened up another stage to live a 'normal life' and have a family. The documentary shows Freda's daughter Rachel describing her mother as a very private person who for most of her life had no interest to tell her stories about The Beatles. But the passing of her son Timothy later in life, plus her wanting to leave a legacy for her baby grandson [her daughter Rachel's son] to look back on seemed to have been at part of the catalyst that this documentary got made. It's such a poignant moment at the end of the documentary as Freda tears up thinking about many of the people during her eleven years with The Beatles who are no longer around now. But with this documentary, those people and her stories will live on.

* last chance to catch this documentary before Hot Docs closes is at Regent Theatre (551 Mt Pleasant Rd) on Saturday May 4 at 8:45 pm. You can buy tickets here.

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