White’s film offers old fans a new perspective.
In the early sixties, Liverpool was at the centre of a pop culture explosion. The Beatles were at the beginning of their astronomical rise to fame and their fanbase was increasing nightly in droves. Director Ryan White’s Good Ol’ Freda shifts the spotlight from the original Fab Four to their receptionist, Freda Kelly.
Kelly, who began as a fan of the band in the days when they were just one of the many obscure bands playing the Cavern Club, became a friend of the band just before they were noticed and was hired by their manager, Brian Epstein, as their momentum increased. The film is mainly a long- form interview with Kelly on her experiences with the band as their secretary and the coordinator of the official Beatles Fan Club.
Kelly talks at great length on not only her dealings with the band, from Brian Epstein’s sporadic fits of rage to John Lennon’s temperamental attitude (at one point she talks about when Lennon fired and rehired her within the span of a few minutes), but also on her experiences with the fans as well. From the thousands of daily fan letters to requests for locks of hair, Freda had to deal with just about every type of fan. At one point she was even sent a pillowcase from a fan asking that Ringo sleep on it and send it back. The film is shot almost entirely in Liverpool and switches between Kelly’s home, where she was interviewed, and archived footage of Kelly and the Beatles.
Particularly hilarious are the myriad of photos and film clips of girls who, upon seeing the band, faint. Over the course of the film, there are over a dozen photos of police officers and soldiers taking unconscious girls, recently fainted, hoisted over their shoulders away from a group of thousands of fans swarming the group. The soundtrack, as one would expect, is entirely composed of Beatles tunes. Though roughly half of the songs in the film are covers, it’s still done incredibly well.
Good Ol’ Freda is a delightful documentary. Freda Kelly is a likeable, compassionate woman and her story is an interesting one. Though she speaks with remarkable candidness, there is never a sense that she, or the filmmakers for that matter, is trying to sensationalize anything; it is profoundly respectful of both Kelly and the Beatles throughout.
The one thing that really struck me, however, was not the content of the film, but rather what it was missing, most notably: The Beatles themselves. Neither surviving Beatle was interviewed for the film and, while the film does not suffer for this, their absence stuck out like a sore thumb. It seemed like a movie about someone who was effectively a sister to the band would warrant more than just the thirty second clip of Ringo wishing Kelly well played during the credits.
Regardless of who the film interviewed, or didn’t for that matter, it is still worth watching. Freda Kelly’s story provides a fascinating look at the fans of The Beatles from a unique perspective.