REVIEW: “The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend A Broken Heart” (2020)

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I would never qualify myself as a fan of 1970’s disco music, but I’ve always had an appreciation for The Bee Gees. I was just a young kid when the British-Australian trio of Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb were topping the charts and earning their unwanted tag as the “Kings of Disco”. But I knew their music thanks to my parents and the 8-track tape player in their white Chevrolet Malibu. My parents listened almost exclusively to 1960’s “oldies”, so I knew The Bee Gees were a thing well before the disco era. But like everyone else, even my folks were drawn to the group’s infectious 70’s sound.

The Bee Gees became global sensations and sold well over $120 million records throughout their career. But there was a sad side to their largely successful story. The new documentary “The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend A Broken Heart” chronicles their first taste of fame during the 60’s British Invasion, their breakup, and their eventual reunion which brought not only a brand new sound but also their rise to superstardom. They unwittingly became synonymous with the 70’s disco scene and despite their best efforts to keep themselves and their music from being pigeonholed, the label eventually became too much for them to shake.

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Image Courtesy of HBO Max

Director Frank Marshall doesn’t break the mold with his new film. It very much plays like a traditional documentary, nothing flashy or innovative. But man is it a compelling and eye-opening biography of the talented Gibbs brothers and their inspired careers. Marshall puts together segments of a recent conversation with Barry Gibb with archived interview footage of his late brothers to give the film its smoothly edited personal touch. Old managers, studio engineers, and bandmates add some insider perspective while celebrities from the music world like Justin Timberlake, Chris Martin of Coldplay, and Noel Gallagher of Oasis testify to the trio’s influence and talent.

Marshall immediately pushes back on the reductive notion that The Bee Gees were nothing more than a simple “disco band”, a label they never embraced. He starts with their inseparable childhood days with older brother Barry and twins Maurice and Robin aspiring to be musicians. He documents their success in the 1960’s including two #1 hits and an early sound that drew comparisons to The Beatles. Marshall also explores their unexpected breakup brought on due to the burden of fame.

During their split all three got married and matured leading to their eventual reunion. The vocal harmony was instantaneous as if they had never been apart, but the world had changed and the interest in The Bee Gees had dried up. That was 1974, two straight albums had tanked and the group had to start playing clubs to make ends meet. It all led to Miami, 1975 where their new sound was born with the release of “Jive Talkin”. Marshall highlights the process behind the group’s musical evolution – the brothers’ desire to be a band rather than a trio, the influence of soul and R&B on their new sound, and the surprise discovery of what would become Barry’s signature falsetto.

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Image Courtesy of HBO Max

The movie spends a lot of time on the group’s highs including the pinnacle of their popularity following their work on the chart-topping “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. But it also hits on the lows, including the sudden and sometimes threatening backlash the group faced after disco was put in the crosshairs of a few rabid haters with platforms. This is best realized in 1979’s infamous Disco Demolition Night riot at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Due to their popularity The Bee Gees, who resented being branded a ‘disco band’, became easy targets. Soon radio stations quit playing their songs and they found themselves on the outs.

While the brothers would go on to write hit songs for major stars such as Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Pardon, their singing careers were never the same. It’s a sad reality especially considering there was nothing the trio could do to avoid it. Much more sobering is how the deaths of Maurice in 2003, Robin in 2012 and their younger brother Andy in 1988 looms over the entire film. Marshall doesn’t dwell on their passings, only mentioning it briefly. Still it’s knowledge that adds an emotional layer to their stories. “I can’t honestly come to terms with the fact that they’re not here anymore,” Barry laments in the movie’s closing moments. It’s a heartfelt reminder that Marshall’s movie is about a lot more than great careers and great music. “The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend A Broken Heart” is now streaming on HBO Max.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

17 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend A Broken Heart” (2020)

  1. Don’t think many of us would’ve survived the ’70s without the Bee Gees music to keep us buoyed. Will definitely take this doc in. Thanks and Happy New Year, Keith.

  2. I really liked this film. Yes, there weren’t a lot of new things I learned but I was still enthralled by that story as well as the sad fact that Barry Gibb is the only still here but not his brothers. The few things I did learn about was some things about Disco Demolition Derby as some of those records they blew up were classic R&B albums as it definitely had a racist vibe to it that made me very uneasy. I feel bad that the Bee Gees were tagged disco as they did so much more.

    It was the music that my parents loved and I grew to love as well. I know the film did skim over a few things including their infamous appearance in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band although I think it was best that everyone forgets about that awful film as the Bee Gees did try to get out of the film. They knew it was a disaster as did several of the performers involved.

    If you’re to ask me what are my favorite songs by the Bee Gees…

    1. How Deep is Your Love
    2. Run to Me
    3. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
    4. Tragedy
    5. To Love Somebody

    They had so many great songs that should be standards of pop music.

    • They were such incredible songwriters. I like all the songs you listed especially To Love Somebody and How Deep is Your Love. I’d also have to add Nights on Broadway, Massachusetts, and I Started a Joke.

      • Ah, I love those songs as well. My mother loves Robin Gibb’s voice but she was more into Andy Gibb. The fact that he was going to become the 4th Bee Gee I think was a good idea. It would make him be part of something as well as help with the issues he was having. Shame he died so young.

        I love “Nights on Broadway” as I try to do that high part in the end. The fact that it came out by accident and everyone was like… “Barry, what the fuck was that?” “I don’t know!” “Do it again!” It also got me to listen to some of those classic 70s R&B records by the Stylistics. Damn, that was music.

  3. I was 11 when I started discovering my own music. Up to that point, my parent’s music was what I heard and that was country mostly but my mom liked Presley and that type of rock. This would have been 74 and as I started buying and listening to the radio, hard rock was my jam. From Zepplin, Kiss, Aerosmith, Rush, Sabbath, etc.. but having said that, in my high school years as disco became huge, the Bee Gees were the band I danced to. I had a soft spot for them and always appreciated their talent because they had great harmonies and amazing melodies. It is sad they were labeled disco only but in retrospect, disco isn’t as bad as I thought it was. They played without the help of autotune, the musicians played their instruments and the Bee Gees stood out from the pack because of their talent. I’ve read a few books about their history and saw a few interviews but I will definitely stream this . They have a long and excellent discography.

  4. I want to write a review of this project but I am so emotionally tied up with it, I hesitate to dive in. The songs from the mid seventies were the soundtrack to my courtship of my late wife. We had those albums on the 8 track in the car, on lps in her college dorm room and at my house. We were at the Forum when the live album was recorded. We were at the front of the line for Sgt. Pepper, and we attended the Grammy concert that Travolta hosted. Every song is a memory and while they are good memories, they are bittersweet. I can boogie to so many and sing along with the sixties tunes, but I can’t listen to “Words” without crying. Marshall did a great job. I’ll probably watch it again and do something on it when I can compose myself.

    • Wow. I feel the emotion in your words and completely understand where you’re coming from. In some ways it’s a testament to the power of music. Bittersweet I’m sure.

  5. I truly cried at this one..at the end when Barry says he would give up all the hits to have his brothers back..broke me. I also learned a lot from it like I always thought they were Australian. It was a great insight into a time/era that can never be repeated.

    • Oh, Barry’s line is absolutely crushing. It also shows that the documentary is really about more than big hits and superstardom. I think that’s one of the reasons I liked it so much.

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