- Billy Preston Earns Rock Hall’s Musical Excellence
- WHITE HORSE PICTURES AND HOMEGROWN PICTURES TO PRODUCE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE LIFE AND CAREER OF EXTRAORDINARY MUSICAL ARTIST BILLY PRESTON – PARIS BARCLAY TO DIRECT
- Joel Fry Joins Alice Eve In Horror Pic ‘The Queen Mary’
- WHITE HORSE PICTURES AND MOJO GLOBAL ARTS GIVE VOICE TO FULLY AUTHORIZED DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE LEGENDARY VENTRILOQUIST SHARI LEWIS AND HER ICONIC PUPPET LAMB CHOP–LISA D’APOLITO TO DIRECT, CONCORD ORIGINALS TO FINANCE ALONGSIDE OLIVE HILL MEDIA, THE 51 FUND AND CARLENE LAUGHLIN
- The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
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Billy Preston Earns Rock Hall’s Musical Excellence
Billy Preston, a trusted sideman with the Beatles and Rolling Stones who also charted with several solo hits, earned the Musical Excellence Award tonight during the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.
Preston’s award was announced by Ringo Starr, who was part of two groups with Billy Preston – the Beatles, of course, and also his own All-Starr Band.
“I like to say that Billy never put his hands in the wrong place,” Starr said via a pre-recorded message. “He was an amazing singer, songwriter and human being.”
He seemed almost preordained for this kind of honor, joining Little Richard‘s touring band as a teenager in 1962 and appearing on Sam Cooke’s Night Beat album a year later. Cooke signed Preston to a record deal, and he released the organ-fueled 16 Yr. Old Soul at an age when most kids are still thinking about first cars and prom.
Along the way, he met the young Beatles – and ended up becoming a lifesaver a few years later as they struggled through the difficult period that eventually produced their last-released album. He subsequently gave the Stones a booster shot of soul, both in the studio and out on the road.
“He was a Beatle – and a Rolling Stone,” Starr marveled. “He was like a part of the band and that’s why he played on a couple of tracks because he was Billy and he gave us a different feeling,” he added, noting that “the last time the Beatles played live, Billy was with us up on the roof.”
Still, Preston’s most important influence and association remained Ray Charles, who so brilliantly melded the twin African-American fountainhead musical styles of R&B and gospel. Charles had first taken the younger keyboardist on a series of seminal tours around the time of Preston’s debut recordings, which included the perfectly titled Most Exciting Organ Ever from 1965.
A year later, Preston appeared on Charles’ Cryin’ Time LP, featuring the Top 40 hit “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” Something clicked. While on tour, Charles reportedly said: “Billy is the man I would like to carry on the work I started.” In some ways, he did.
Preston, who used to call his working band the God Squad, pretty much stuck to the Charles template — issuing records that mixed both the rhythms and spirituals of his youth. But Preston came of age during the nascent era of funk, and that provided an important new element to his emerging sound – and his look.
He’d score a string of smash singles between 1969-74, while establishing a memorable shag carpet-era persona. There was his sky-high mushroom-cloud hair, which shivered and swayed as he played with an uninhibited, full-gospel abandon.
Just below that shone a mile-wide, gap-toothed smile, so magnetically appealing that it threatened sometimes to obscure just how talented Preston was as a musician. That contagious sense of joy ultimately masked a series of personal issues, which Preston battled throughout his too-short life.
The 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will air on Nov. 20 on HBO alongside a radio simulcast on SiriusXM Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Radio.
WHITE HORSE PICTURES AND HOMEGROWN PICTURES TO PRODUCE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE LIFE AND CAREER OF EXTRAORDINARY MUSICAL ARTIST BILLY PRESTON – PARIS BARCLAY TO DIRECT
White Horse Pictures and Homegrown Pictures have teamed on an untitled documentary feature about the legendary musician and genius keyboardist Billy Preston. He was called the Fifth Beatle, because he the only non-member ever to be credited on a Beatles recording. He had plenty of his own hits and co-wrote the song Joe Cocker made famous, You Are So Beautiful. Fifteen years after his death in 2006, Billy Preston was inducted this past weekend into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Paris Barclay, the multi-Emmy-winning director, producer, and writer (In Treatment, Glee, Sons of Anarchy) will direct. Cheo Hodari Coker (Creed II, Luke Cage, Ray Donovan) is writing the film alongside Barclay.
The film is produced by Homegrown’s Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow, Dear White People, 2020 Oscars), White Horse’s Jeanne Elfant Festa, (Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart) and Nigel Sinclair (Pavarotti, George Harrison: Living in the Material World). The exec producers are Barclay, Daniel Shaw, G. Marq Roswell, Olivia Harrison, Jonathan Clyde, and White Horse Pictures’ Nicholas Ferrall and Cassidy Hartmann. Coker is co-producing and Erikka Yancy serves as the film’s supervising producer. Pic is presented by Concord Originals alongside Impact Partners, Chicago Media Project, and Play/Action Pictures, Polygram Entertainment, Dave Knott, and Sobey Road Entertainment.
Said Allain: “A singular figure in music history, Billy Preston lent his genius to elevate the most celebrated artists of the 20th Century. Grateful to work with this team, using this soundtrack to explore his personal journey and finally place him front and center.” Barclay said “the Billy Preston we know was an incomparable musician,” but the Billy we’ll see in this documentary was a mass of contradictions. I’m thrilled to dig deeper into the complex man under the Afro, and behind the famous smile.”
A self taught prodigy keyboard player, Preston was just 16 when he met the not-yet-famous Beatles while playing for Little Richard while they toured Hamburg in 1962. He befriended the young, impoverished band by sneaking them food and drinks. Later in the ’60s, this led to Preston playing on The Beatles’ Let It Be and Abbey Road albums as a credited musician, and performing with the Beatles in their last live performance as a group – the famous Roof Top concert. The Grammy Award-winning artist had solo career that included number one hits, and working with The Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nat King Cole, Sly Stone, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson, among others. Preston is featured in the upcoming Peter Jackson-directed documentary The Beatles: Get Back.
Despite an enviable career in music, Preston had a challenging personal story that involved sexual abuse he endured as a child. He struggled with his sexuality and had substance abuse problems he used to make his pain. Only later in life did he come to terms with his truth and so find his peace.
Barclay and Hodari Coker asked to make a shout out to those who knew Preston or worked with him, who and may have recordings, photographs, or personal memories to make contact through http://www.billyprestondoc.com.
UTA Independent Film Group with White Horse Pictures helped raise the funding and they will broker sales of the film.
Allain’s Homegrown is repped by UTA, First Artists and Marcy Morris; Barclay is ICM and Lovett Management.
Joel Fry Joins Alice Eve In Horror Pic ‘The Queen Mary’
Gary Shore (Dracula Untold) is directing the pic, which is a psychological horror/mystery exploring three interwoven stories, covering the violent disintegration of two families onboard the ship in 1938 and present day.
Principal photography is currently taking place at the UK-based ARRI/Creative Technologies studios, a virtual production facility which immerses cast and production crew inside CG environments rendered in real time with the help of a massive wraparound LED screen. Later in November, it will board the actual Queen Mary as part of the exclusive license granted to Imagination Design Works by the ship. The multi-storied ocean liner is currently located in dock at Long Beach, California.
Stephen Oliver and Tom Vaughan wrote the script with revisions by Gary Shore. The film is being produced by Brett Matthew Tomberlin of Imagination Design Works, Thorsten Schumacher of Rocket Science, Lars Sylvest, and Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall of White Horse Pictures (The Woman in Black). Rocket Science is also handling world sales.
Tobin Armbrust is set to executive produce together with White Horse’s Cassidy Hartmann. Andy Trapani, Brian Gilbert, and Steve Sheldon of Epic Entertainment Group also serve as Executive Producers. White Horse Pictures’ Jeanne Elfant Festa is co-executive producing. Tom Vaughan is co-producing. Mali Elfman is producing alongside Mark Tomberlin, Chris Tomberlin, and Jordan Rambis who are executive producing as part of Imagination Design Works. Morgan Emmery and Julian Gross from Trinity Media Financing, Lina Ghandour from National Bank of Canada, and Imagination Design Works are financing.
Fry is represented by Will Hollinshead and Livi Shean of Independent Talent Group in the UK.
WHITE HORSE PICTURES AND MOJO GLOBAL ARTS GIVE VOICE TO FULLY AUTHORIZED DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE LEGENDARY VENTRILOQUIST SHARI LEWIS AND HER ICONIC PUPPET LAMB CHOP–LISA D’APOLITO TO DIRECT, CONCORD ORIGINALS TO FINANCE ALONGSIDE OLIVE HILL MEDIA, THE 51 FUND AND CARLENE LAUGHLIN
Los Angeles, CA (August 11, 2021) –Emmy and Grammy Award winning production company White Horse Pictures and MoJo Global Arts are set to produce the fully authorized documentary feature Shari & Lamb Chop, focusing on the legendary and beloved ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her iconic puppet Lamb Chop. It was announced today by Nicholas Ferrall, President of White Horse Pictures, and Douglas Warner of MoJo Global Arts. The film will be directed by Emmy-nominated Lisa D’Apolito, the director and producer of Love, Gilda, the celebrated documentary about the late, ground-breaking SNL comedian Gilda Radner.
Shari & Lamb Chop is being produced by White Horse’s Cassidy Hartmann (The Apollo) and Nicholas Ferrall (The Beatles: Eight Days A Week), MoJo’s Douglas Warner (Paul Rodriguez: The Here & Wow) and D’Apolito. White Horse’s Nigel Sinclair (The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart) and Jeanne Elfant Festa (Pavarotti) will executive produce with MoJo’s Morris Ruskin. The documentary is being produced with the full cooperation of the Shari Lewis estate, through her daughter Mallory Lewis. Mallory, who has performed with Lamb Chop for the last twenty years, is consulting on the film.
Concord Originals is financing the film along with Olive Hill Media, The 51 Fund and Carlene Laughlin. Serving as executive producers are Concord Originals’ Sophia Dilley, Charles Hopkins and Wesley Adams; Olive Hill’s Tim Lee and Michael Cho; The 51 Fund’s Caitlin Gold, Naomi McDougall Jones, and Lindsay Lanzillotta as well as Carlene Laughlin. Cassidy Hartmann will also serve as writer.
As a young female ventriloquist with big aspirations, Shari Lewis was searching for a voice who could say things that a young woman in the 1950’s could not – she found it in an unassuming sock puppet named Lamb Chop. By the end of the 20th century, Lamb Chop had become a cultural icon on par with Snoopy, Mickey Mouse or Elmo firmly engrained in the American consciousness; however, Lewis’s remarkable story and her larger impact on children’s television have remained greatly underacknowledged. Shari & Lamb Chop will explore Shari’s unlikely journey through the lens of her fascinating decades-long “relationship” with Lamb Chop, delving into the unique psychology that exists between performer and puppet, and the peculiar world of ventriloquism and magic.
“Shari Lewis’ exceptional life and career are so inspiring and relevant to the cultural conversations we’re having today,” said Cassidy Hartmann. “We’re honored that Mallory Lewis has entrusted us with her mother’s extraordinary legacy, and are thrilled to be working with the talented Lisa D’Apolito to bring Shari and Lamb Chop’s unique journey to life.”
“As a young woman Shari Lewis was a pioneer in television, and in her later years she was still singing and kicking up her heels with Lamb Chop – educating a whole new generation of children,” said Lisa D’Apolito. “Shari’s story is one of resilience and perseverance. I feel very fortunate to be working with this amazing team and to enter into the magical world of Shari and Lamb Chop, which takes you to a place that can open your heart and make you smile.”
By the time of her untimely death from uterine cancer in 1998, Shari and Lamb Chop had become one of the most unique and enduring “comedy teams” in American culture. Lewis had won dozens of awards – including 13 Emmys and a Peabody – published 60 children’s books, and finally found a way to achieve her dreams as a performer. Most importantly, she had also brightened and enriched the lives of children for more than four decades.
Puppets have been a hot topic of conversation this summer. The Puppets of New York exhibition opens this month at The Museum of the City of New York and explores the extraordinary, surprising, and diverse history of New York City’s quirkiest residents – among them, Lamb Chop!
White Horse Pictures’ latest feature documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart recently received six 2021 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Documentary. The company won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary last year for The Apollo. Both films are distributed by HBO Documentary Films.
Concord Originals is the recently launched narrative content creation division of prolific music and theatrical rights company Concord. Concord Originals develops and produces scripted and unscripted films, television shows and premium podcasts.
In addition to Shari and Lamb Chop, Olive Hill Media has financed a number of projects this past year including Hulu’s WeWork Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn which premiered at the 2021 SXSW festival, Stockholm Syndrome – an A$AP rocky documentary that premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, and most recently Sean Penn’s newest 2021 Cannes title, Flag Day. Upcoming projects include Alex Winter’s Mass Effect: The Story of YouTube as well as Lionsgate’s Plane starring Gerard Butler, an untitled TikTok project, and Rudy Giuliani feature documentary.
The 51 Fund, a new financing company investing in female-helmed films, most recently executive produced Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt’s feature documentary CUSP which premiered in competition at this year’s Sundance and will be released by Showtime.
CAA Media Finance and White Horse are repping the rights for distribution.
Lisa D’Apolito is represented by CAA.
Lamb Chop and Mallory Lewis are managed by Adrienne Ross at Harmony Artists.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart Nominated for 2021 MTV Movie & TV Award
Billboard: “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart: Frank Marshall directed and executive produced this doc, which is built around a fresh interview with the trio’s sole surviving member, Barry Gibb, as well as archival interviews with his late twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb. The doc shares its title with the 1971 classic that was the trio’s first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100.”
Alice Eve To Star In Gary Shore Haunted Ship Horror ‘The Queen Mary’, First In Planned Trilogy
As previously revealed, Gary Shore (Dracula Untold) will direct off of a screenplay written by Stephen Oliver, Tom Vaughan, and Shore.
Plot details are being kept under wraps but the film is inspired by stories of hauntings on the famed ocean liner that is now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA. The multi-storied ocean liner, named Time Magazine’s most haunted place in the world, receives two million visitors each year.
The project has been developed and produced by Brett Tomberlin of Imagination Design Works, along with Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall of White Horse Pictures (The Woman in Black), Thorsten Schumacher and Lars Sylvest for Rocket Science (Resistance) and Jason Newmark and Laurie Cook of Newscope.
Mali Elfman is producing alongside Mark Tomberlin and Jordan Rambis who are executive producing as part of Imagination Design Works. Rocket Science is on board to fully finance and represent worldwide distribution rights.
Eve most recently starred in Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey follow-up Belgravia and is currently shooting The Power for Amazon.
“We were immediately obsessed with Gary’s intelligent and twisted multi-film take on a great American legend and could not be more excited working with an extremely gifted actor in bringing this story to audiences around the world,” said Tomberlin.
Shore added: “I’m fascinated, obsessed and disturbed by this ship – there’s something very dark and human about her. It’s a stylistic tightrope between reverence and horror.”
Tobin Armbrust will executive-produce together with White Horse’s Cassidy Hartmann. Andy Trapani, Brian Gilbert, and Steve Sheldon of Epic Entertainment Group will also serve as executive producers. White Horse Pictures’ Jeanne Elfant Festa will co-executive-produce. Tom Vaughan will co-produce.
Also executive-producing are Gianluca Chakra and Hisham Alghanim of Front Row Filmed Entertainment, which has also backed development.
Eve is represented by Independent Talent Group, CAA, and Silver Lining Entertainment. Shore is represented by WME, 42 and Sloane, Offer, Weber and Dern. Vaughan is repped by Mark Hartogsohn and Danny Toth and The Gersh Agency, and Kailey Marsh at Brillstein Partners. Attorney Cliff Lo and Alexa Pagonas of Michael Black Management negotiated the Queen Mary rights deal on behalf of Imagination Design Works.
Barry Gibb on CBS Sunday Morning
For his latest album, Barry Gibb teamed up with some of Nashville’s biggest stars to record “Greenfields,” in which they perform some of The Bee Gees’ greatest hits. The last surviving Gibb brother talked with “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason about returning to their catalogue, and about the new HBO Max documentary about the group, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which he says is too painful for him to watch.
How a New Doc Reclaims the Bee Gees’ Legacy
The Bee Gees created music for nearly five decades, but their legacy is often reduced to a brief period in the late Seventies when they became the most famous disco band on the planet thanks to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
So when director Frank Marshall and producer Nigel Sinclair approached Barry Gibb for a documentary, the last living Bee Gee asked what they had in mind. “We said we wanted to reintroduce him to his audience, because time has passed,” Sinclair tells Rolling Stone. “He said, ‘If you guys will do that, I’ll give you everything.’”
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, out December 12th on HBO, aims to tell the band’s whole saga from start to finish. It features rare footage and new interviews with Barry Gibb from his home in Miami, as well as interviews with his late brothers Robin and Maurice. Much of the footage was supplied by the Gibb family, who gave Marshall complete creative independence. “When we talked to [Maurice’s widow] Yvonne Gibb, she remembered that they had some eight-millimeter footage that was in a shoebox under a bed somewhere,” Marshall explains. “Talking to the family was really important.”
The film chronicles the band’s upbringing in Australia, their relationship with manager Robert Stigwood, their rise to fame in the late Sixties in England, and their global revival in the late Seventies with Saturday Night Fever, which stayed at Number One on the Billboard Album Chart for an astonishing 24 consecutive weeks. The group’s backing band and producers weigh in on the group’s creative process: keyboardist Blue Weaver tears up recalling how he and Barry came up with the melody for “How Deep Is Your Love,” while producers Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson recreate the famous drum loop on “Stayin’ Alive.” “They went to the top of the mountain with the Bee Gees,” Sinclair says. “Then, as it happens with bands and engineers and producers, they moved on to another life. They were reliving this moment.”
Marshall also interviewed members of brother bands, including Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers. They breakdown the joys of making music with family members, and the brutal tensions that comes with it. “When you’ve got brothers singing, it’s like an instrument that nobody else can buy,” Gallagher says. “You can’t go buy that sound in a shop.”
“We could have done a whole film just on Noel Gallagher’s interview,” Sinclair says. “Of all the projects that we’ve worked on, it was the one where everybody you asked would say yes. However famous people are, there’s all sorts of reasons why they don’t want to be interviewed. Eric Clapton doesn’t [usually] give interviews, so that was amazing.” Justin Timberlake also appears, praising the band to such extreme measures that he promises the cameramen he’s not high. “It was so fun to talk to him, I forgot we were doing the interview,” Marshall laughs. “He was so enthusiastic about them and their musical gifts.”
The film also delves into unpleasant moments in their career, from Robin getting booed offstage after his first solo show in 1970 to the backlash they faced following Disco Demolition Night in Chicago’s Comiskey Park nine years later. “Let’s all grow up, we’re just a pop group,” Barry urges in an archival interview. “I don’t think there’s any reason to chalk us up because we existed in the Seventies. And we would like to exist in the Eighties — does anybody mind if we exist in the Eighties? Thank you.” (In 1988, the band casually summed up their hatred of “Stayin’ Alive” to Rolling Stone: “We’d like to dress it up in a white suit and gold chains … and set it on fire.”)
However, the fiasco of the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — starring the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, and Steve Martin — isn’t mentioned at all in the documentary. “There was no reason to put it in,” Marshall says. Adds Sinclair: “We deal with other things that were challenges and some humiliating things that happened to them, but their experience there didn’t move their creativity forwards.”
In addition, the film only briefly touches on the Eighties and Nineties. “We do deal with it the last 10 minutes of the film,” Sinclair says, alluding to footage from their incredible One Night Only tour in 1997. “But we were trying to pick the mountaintop moments.”
The death of Maurice Gibb in 2003 and Robin Gibb in 2012 means that it now falls squarely on Barry to keep the legacy alive. He plays Bee Gees classics on occasional solo tours and in January he’s releasing the LP Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, where he revisits many of their most iconic songs as duets with country stars. But memories of his brothers are never far from his head. “I honestly can’t come to terms with the fact that they’re not here anymore,” he says near end of the movie, staring out at the Miami skyline. “I’d rather have them all back here than no hits at all.”
In HBO’s magnificent Bee Gees documentary, broken hearts — and icon status — can finally be mended
Wherever you currently land on the subject of the Bee Gees (Forgotten glitter gods? Perpetual punchline?), director Frank Marshall’s thorough and beautifully appreciative HBO documentary, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” will get you where you need to be — which, I can practically promise, is a sublime state of awe.
An exemplary lesson in how to make a revealing rockumentary, “The Bee Gees” (premiering Saturday) will satisfy lifelong skeptics and loyal fans. It’s less of the usual tract (we had them all wrong!) and more of a reckoning with the profound degree of artistry and accomplishment that should be the last word on any Bee Gees story. The movie is also a unique consideration of the phenomenon of rise and fall, and how one learns to live with it.
Spending almost no time on a deep probe of the biographical 1950s family dynamics of the Gibbs of Brisbane, Australia, it instead heads straight into the recurring theme of success and fame as a matter of raw determination: Hugh Gibb, the father of Barry and twins Robin and Maurice, was a musician who simply believed his sons’ harmonizing vocals and knack for songwriting deserved as much or more attention than, say, the Beatles. He wrote to Beatles manager Brian Epstein and offered up his cheerfully ambitious offspring; Epstein handed them over to a subordinate, Robert Stigwood, and the rest is pop-music history.
But what kind of history and why? This is where Marshall’s film succeeds. With archival footage and music cues that will invariably lure you out of your chair (or have you choked up during those achingly perfect chord progressions in the band’s ballads), “The Bee Gees” insists the Gibbs’s musicianship and prolonged success is as impressive as anyone in the rock pantheon. The film also has an adept awareness that such statements are always up for careful review and heated debate. No greater authority than Barry Gibb himself, the band’s sole survivor at 74, can confirm the ways in which celebrity stories, and images, change with time.
“I am beginning to recognize the fact that nothing is true,” he says at the film’s opening. “Nothing. It’s all down to perception. My immediate family is gone, but that’s life. It’s the same thing in every family, that someone will be left in the end. [At] this time in life, I have fantastic memories, but everybody’s memories are different. So they’re just my memories, you know?”
In other words, “The Bee Gees” is years too late to present the fullest possible account, relying on past documentary interviews with Maurice (who died in 2003) and Robin (who died in 2012) to supplement the narrative of a band that continually recalibrated itself to radio’s whims. Inspired by the work of others (including Otis Redding and the Mills Brothers) in a time when appropriation was just part of the game, their greatest gift to music could have started and ended with the writing and recording of their much-covered 1967 hit ballad “To Love Somebody.”
The footage and music from the band’s initial dalliance with fame is as much or more fascinating than the “Saturday Night Fever” superstardom that lurked ahead. As noted by Coldplay singer Chris Martin, who considers himself something of an expert on pop-star backlash, the Bee Gees were among the first groups to understand that long careers in the recording industry come with stretches that are as low as any high. Ego clashes were complicated by familial resentments. Oasis’s Noel Gallagher observes that making music with family members is “the greatest strength and the greatest weakness you can have.” Bee Gees fan Nick Jonas agrees: “Brothers, in general, is a very complicated thing.” One wishes the movie went even more deeply on this — the depth with which Barry, Robin and Maurice loved each other comes through; the darker moments often don’t.
Robin briefly went solo, and wouldn’t talk to Barry. (The good-humored Maurice says he always had to be the “Mr. Fix-It” between the two.) The 1970s dawned with another big hit (“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”) but, even reunited, the brothers yearned to find a new sound. The supportive Stigwood, who by now had his own label at Atlantic, urged the Bee Gees to do what his other big client, Eric Clapton, had done — move to Miami and experiment.
“Those guys were actually an R&B band that hadn’t really worked that out yet,” Clapton observes.
It is here that “The Bee Gees” makes an enlightening argument for the kind of musicianship that happens at the studio control board. It’s not so much about manipulation as it is a startling degree of precision and perfectionism. “Jive Talkin’,” a revelatory new Bee Gees hit in 1975, was divined from the rhythm produced by car tires speeding across a Miami bridge. Working with producer Arif Mardin on the song “Nights on Broadway,” Barry was pushed to improvise near the song’s end, eliciting a sonic falsetto he never knew he had. (“Blamin’ it all! Blame it on the nights on Broadway!”) That, more than anything, put the Bee Gees’s stamp on popular culture — and again borrowed heavily, the film notes, from such bands as the Spinners and Stylistics.
Their new sound leads, of course, to a level of fame and riches the brothers never imagined. Stigwood asked the band to add some songs to the soundtrack of a movie he was producing about the flourishing disco scene in Brooklyn. To persuade the studio to release “Saturday Night Fever” in as many theaters as possible, Stigwood promised to attach a No. 1 hit to it in advance, leaving it to the Bee Gees to come up with “the best love song you’ve ever written.” They delivered, with “How Deep Is Your Love,” followed by “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever,” on a double album that eventually sold 45 million copies.
In the relentless pursuit of hits, the Gibbs were remarkably unfazed by popularity. Rather than reject it or treat it in an aloof manner, they always seemed to acquiesce to it. The point, after all, is to be adored.
Living in their own glitzy bubble, they were completely unaware, while performing in Oakland on July 12, 1979, that a belligerent rock DJ in Chicago, Steve Dahl, had summoned tens of thousands of listeners to a White Sox doubleheader at Comiskey Park for a “Disco Demolition Night” rally. Fans could get into the game for 98 cents if they brought a disco album to add to a heap that were to be blown to smithereens on the outfield. Plenty of those albums were Bee Gees records; Dahl used to inhale helium on the air to do a mocking imitation of the band.
The event ended, deplorably, in a riotous melee that police had to break up. House music pioneer Vince Lawrence, who was working that night as a teenage usher, remembers seeing a disproportionate number of Black artists in the album pile. For many, Dahl’s “Disco Sucks!” movement took on the pall of a fascist uprising. “It was a book burning. It was a racist, homophobic book burning,” Lawrence says. “And the Bee Gees got caught up in that, because they were part of that culture that was lifting a lot of people up.”
The brothers were hurt and confused by the sudden backlash; record companies started dropping disco acts and everyone’s gaze was about to turn toward MTV. Asked about it then, Barry grew testy with an interviewer and looked angrily into the camera: “Does anybody mind if [the Bee Gees] exist in the ’80s, thank you?”
Yet “The Bee Gees” hardly ends on a note of bitterness. The brothers reinvented themselves once more, this time as master collaborators and surefire love-song wizards writing for others, including Barbra Streisand (“Guilty,” “A Woman in Love”), Dionne Warwick (“Heartbreaker”); Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers (“Islands in the Stream”); and more. Respect came in due time (including a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1997) as did a recurring theme of loss.
“I can’t honestly come to terms with the fact that [Robin, Maurice and their younger brother Andy] are not here anymore. I’ve never been able to do that,” Barry says. “I’d rather have them here and no hits at all.”