Most Coveted Secretarial Job in the World
At first glance hinting maybe condescension in the title, Good Ol’ Freda really does anything but, those three little words being the lads’ fond reference to her. Ryan White’s second documentary takes a new slant on the Beatles but is equally if not more about her ”loyalty, integrity and devotion.”
The Astoria, Queens, New York, Museum of the Moving Image pre-release showing preceded a Q&A with the director/co-producer/-writer and Freda Kelly. Though she is a longtime family friend, he rather coincidentally learned of her intimate connection with the Fab Four (and Stu Sutcliffe), “Fifth Beatle” Brian Epstein, their parents, wives and children.
She never sought or got great money, and still donates instead of sells priceless memorabilia -- recently ₤50,000’s worth to the Cancer Society -- and continues to work as a Liverpool secretary whose officemates were as unaware of the self-effacing woman’s past as was most everyone else. White’s relationship gained him entrée, to record as the winning lady revisits locations from that past (spliced with archival snaps of them) but mainly talks from her living-room couch (in front of a peeling staircase bottom) or rummages (a bit too stagey) through attic cartons of scrapbooks, magazines, letters, photos, publicity material.
After work at her first-ever job, Freda was coaxed into going to the Cavern, the now-famous smelly atmospheric basement club showcasing the barely beginning local rage named the Beatles. Hooked like untold millions of other sixteen-year-olds worldwide, she went back, and back, and back. In those innocent days performers were not sequestered by posses, PR people and police -- Beatlemania started that sea change -- and by luck she got noticed and hired as their secretary and, with the soon unimaginable and unmanageable fame, manager of their official fan club and its newsletter.
Resisting blandishments for a half-century, she kept her peace until the birth of a grandchild made her decide to open up. Even daughter Rachel Norris was unaware of ninety-five percent of the material uncovered and here brought to the screen, itself culled from forty hours’ interviews.
Not that much older than she, the band treated and protected her like a loved kid sister. With signature dry humor, John obliquely remarked that she was absolutely safe with homosexual Epstein. Sounding wisdom that ought to be heeded by today’s narcissistic celebrities, she defends the boys’ (and her own) rights to privacy and in the film and at MoMI passed on most personal questions.
Thus, while interesting, humorous and often new, the many bits that are revealed are less than earthshaking. What has made it to the hundred seven minutes of screen time after two years’ work, is Freda’s view of things -- granted, an insider’s -- and immediate questions are, how much is she holding back and/or censoring, and how perceptive or naïve could she have been? Not all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, of course, but surely at least some.
The girl grew into womanhood in the eleven years she remained on of the Beatles’ ten-year-existence -- on bended knee, John begged her to stay -- even while defying control freak Epstein to remain near her father in Liverpool when the rest relocated to London. The symmetry which she notes is what initially attracted White’s attention: echoing the Magical Mystery Tour in which she participated, she says she boarded the metaphorical bus that was to ignite a cultural revolution and at twenty-seven got off it at the very same stop, ready to start another life as woman, wife and mother.
Ringo gives an end video thumbs-up to this woman who calls him Richie, and, they said, Paul was just too busy to follow suit.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "PG" by MPAA.)