' ' Cinema Romantico: Good Ol' Freda

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Good Ol' Freda

For the majority of “Good Ol’ Freda”, our faithful narrator, Freda Kelly, the longtime secretary of The Beatles, is seated on the non-descript couch inside her own home, recounting her entire eleven years lending crucial aid to John, Paul, George and Ringo. As she does, the film continually illustrates and highlights her stories with all manner of black and white stills of The Beatles themselves, often in what appear moments of good cheer rather than disaffected posing, as if Freda herself is flipping through an old family photo album. And that is the sensation “Good Ol’ Freda” yearns to elicit – listening to a family member tell tales.

Freda makes clear that first and foremost she was a Beatle fan, standing with all the other shrieking girls, albeit more composed and a bit further back, at the Cavern Club in her and their hometown of Liverpool. A friend formed a small-time Beatle fan club and Freda helped, until the friend flaked out and Freda took over. That was how she first entered the world, until The Beatles got a bit bigger and producer Brian Epstein needed a secretary for his quartet. Enter: Freda. And there she would remain for all eleven years of the band's epic run.

The surviving members of The Beatles, crucially, correctly, are never interviewed (though Ringo pops up momentarily over the closing credits). Well, their story has been told an untold number of times, and the point here is not to look through that lens yet again. A few others – like Paul McCartney’s grandmother and Freda’s own daughter – appear on camera now and again, but they are more like the relatives in the other room adding their two cents unasked.

It is important to state the politeness of “Good Ol’ Freda.” The film’s material leans heavily toward the earlier years, when The Beatles appeared like matching moppets, as opposed to the later years when discord was rampant and psychedelic was the word du jour. Then again, as The Beatles popularity took off and they moved band operations from Liverpool to London, Freda remained behind, doing her job and running the fan club out of the old offices. Perhaps she missed much of the strain. Perhaps she simply wished not to rehash it. Big revelations, by which I mean SHOCKING (!!!) revelations, will not be found in any capacity.

Fairly early in the film Freda drops quiet hints at relationships, maybe with one Beatle, maybe with more. The director, off camera, presses her on this, but she refuses to indulge on that topic, coyly replying “That’s personal.” And I suppose such a moment would rule most documentaries out of order. But I would hesitate to label “Good Ol’ Freda” a documentary, at least not in the way that we typically think of documentaries. The point here is not to dig up dirt or dissect a band that has already been dissected for decades, but simply to reflect. It is A Remembrance, and Freda Kelly is editing the remembrance for the filmmakers.

The film paints Freda Kelly as a woman of great privacy and independence. She still works nine to five, six days a week, her daughter tells us, and never cashed in on her fame. She keeps four boxes of mementos in her attic, not much more. Many of her current day friends, we learn, had no idea who she once was and what she once did. She simply doesn’t talk about it, not on account of shame or regret, but because, well, that’s personal.

I watched “Good Ol’ Freda” the same day I first read of emerging reports that the late Brittany Murphy may or may not have been poisoned, digging up the dirt from the grave of the deceased (figuratively), refusing to give her peace or privacy even in the afterlife. Freda Kelly is here, graciously, to remind us that we all, even the rich and famous, even the biggest band in the whole wide world, deserve a semblance of privacy too.

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