Directed by Frank Marshall and written by Mark Monroe, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is the story of the legendary British pop group of three brothers who were popular in the 1960s and then became superstars in the mid to late 1970s and then take a back seat in the 1980s to be songwriters. The documentary film chronicles the group’s unique journey as it is told by those who worked with the group but also those they influenced and from the sole surviving Gibb brother in Barry who is carrying the group’s legacy. The result is a fascinating and heartfelt film from Frank Marshall.
The story of the Bee Gees that consists of the Gibb brothers in the eldest Barry and his younger twin brothers Robin and Maurice were born in Manchester as they moved to Australia with their family that included their youngest brother Andy. In Australia, the three brothers would hone their musical chops and be influenced by many acts including the Mills Brothers and later the Beatles prompting them to return to Britain where they would become a major-selling pop group with guitarist Vince Melouny and drummer Colin Peterson as they were managed by Robert Stigwood. The story of the Bee Gees is legendary as they were this pop group who scored a lot of hits in the 60s and early 70s yet a brief break-up in 1969 that lead to their reunion a year later where they had to deal with an ever-changing music scene only to change their sound in the mid-70s to something akin to the R&B music of the times.
The film doesn’t just play into the band’s history from the early 1960s to the late 1990s but also their influence and the many ups and downs they would endure during those times. Featuring archival interviews with Robin and Maurice from the late 1990s as well as other archival footage from TV talk shows and such with Barry talking from one of his homes in Miami. Associates such as Vince Melouny, longtime touring/sessions guitarist Alan Kendall, keyboardist Blue Weaver, drummer Dennis Byron, and producers Albhy Glauten and Karl Richardson all talk about the music and their contributions. Most notably a scene of how Glauten and Richardson created the rhythmic drum loop for the song Stayin’ Alive by taking drum samples from the song Night Fever since Byron was unavailable due to a family emergency.
Also interviewed aside from Maurice’s widow Yvonne and Robin’s widow Dwina are various producers and artists such as Mark Ronson, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Maurice Gibb’s first-wife Lulu, house music legend Vince Lawrence, and Eric Clapton as he was the one who suggested the Bee Gees to go to Miami to record their 1975 album Main Course. Gallagher and Jonas both discuss the many highs and lows of being in a group with siblings as well as the fact that when brothers sing together, it has a unique sound that is unmatched with anything else. The film also talk about the unfair and unfortunate backlash the Bee Gees endured after Saturday Night Fever and the disco craze as a club deejay from those original discotheques revealed that disco began as an underground thing for gays/lesbians, blacks, and Hispanics at the time but when it became mainstream. The shit hit the fan as people in the world of corporate industry put the name disco on anything to the point of overkill and the Bee Gees were an unfortunate target.
There’s a sequence where the Bee Gees played to a sell-out crowd in 1979 at the Oakland Arena as they were treated with large adulation that is then inter-cut with what happened on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago where Vince Lawrence was an usher at the stadium as that was the infamous event that was Disco Demolition Night that was held between a doubleheader game between the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. Lawrence revealed that in that bin where all of the disco records were found and were to be destroyed that not all of those records were disco records. Some of the records were from R&B acts like Steve Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye as it definitely showcased an ugly scene but also evidence that the event had a lot of racist and homophobic implications with the Bee Gees being a target because of their music.
With the help of cinematographer Michael Dwyer, a lot of the interviews that Marshall filmed are straightforward as it also play into some of the tragedy the band endured such as Andy Gibb’s death in 1988 due to heart failure relating to his drug addiction issues. What was more heartbreaking about his death was that the Bee Gees were going to announce him as an official fourth member as a way to help him. Editors Derek Boonstra and Robert A. Martinez do excellent work in cultivating a lot of the archival footage as well as rare home movies taken by the Bee Gees during their time including moments in Miami where the entire family was living there as if it was paradise. Sound editor Jonathan Greber does brilliant work in not just showcasing some of the demos of the songs but also in some of the audio interviews that play into some of the band’s history as well as the fact that Barry Gibb is the last Bee Gee standing.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is an incredible film from Frank Marshall. It’s 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. In the end, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is a sensational film from Frank Marshall.
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