The title says it all. Out of the dozens of hits The Bee Gees racked up over the years, 1971’s How Can You Mend A Broken Heart captures the mood of this otherwise pedestrian documentary as sole surviving Gibb brother Barry remembers his three fallen brothers.
Known more as a producer (The Color Purple, Back To The Future, The Bourne Identity) Frank Marshall uses new and archival interviews and footage to tell the story of one of pop music’s most successful and (possibly) underrated acts of the 60s and 70s.
I say underrated because, as the film points out, The Bee Gees suffered a severe backlash after the world-dominating success of Saturday Night Fever and chart-topping hits such as Stayin’ Alive and Night Fever. Since then, the quality of their songwriting and the body of work that comprises their first run of hits in the 1960s (To Love Somebody, I’ve Got to Get a Message to You, Massachusetts to name a few) often get overlooked. Indeed you rarely hear the name “Gibb” mentioned alongside such songwriting giants as Dylan, King, Mitchell or Cohen and perhaps that needs to be re-addressed.
For myself, having been a teenager in the late 60s and early 70s I loved the first wave of Bee Gees hits. Baroque, minor-key masterpieces such as New York Mining Disaster 1941, Words and (my favourite) I Started A Joke sounded like nothing else on the radio while simultaneously sounding just like the Beatles (on downers).
And I admit to not being so fond of the late 70s “disco” Bee Gees. But to each his own.
Getting back to the film…there are cool archival interviews with all three brothers plus new footage with Barry. Also on hand are most of the ex-wives, widows and former band members and they are usually illuminating although I could do without Eric Clapton’s self-serving comments or those of Noel Gallagher.
The Bee Gees’ career as world-dominating musicians came to a rather sudden end in 1979 and the film cite the infamous “Disco Sucks” movement topped by a mass disco recording burning at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in July. The film makes the point that much of this disco backlash was anti-gay and anti-black. And while there is plenty of truth there, it’s not the whole story.
I remember being very happy that disco seemed over. I was a young punk rocker at the time, coming to terms with Blondie’s Call Me. But I was not anti-black music…I loved James Brown, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, etc but I saw and heard first-hand how many of these great artists felt discarded and irrelevant as disco took over the charts and the dance floors.
Sure there were great disco songs (I Will Survive) but as a genre it seemed reductive and dumb (this from a Ramones fan).
At the end of the film, we find Barry Gibb alone, surrounded by memories of his late brothers, contemplating the release of his new album, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1. Barry claims he’d give up all the hits just to have his three younger brothers back with him.
That’s a lot of hits and that’s how you mend a broken heart.
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