Good Ol' Freda Ryan White

Good Ol' Freda Ryan White
At this point, it's hard to believe there's much new information about the Beatles left to uncover. Countless official and unofficial biographies and documentaries have been made, but this is the first time the secretary of the most significant band in the history of pop culture has told her personal side of the story.

With the fab foursome since their days as an unknown Liverpool band building buzz at a scuzzy club called the Cavern, Freda Kelly (who refers to the odour of said club as "unique") pulls back her cherished curtain of privacy to share what it was like at ground zero for Beatlemania. Freda was selected for the position of head of the Beatles fan club not just for being reliable and in the right place at the right time, but for being "a fan but not a fanatic." As such, she could relate to the feverish requests of fans that were far gone enough to want a snip of Ringo's hair or John's shirt, but was calm and dignified enough to not get that freaky herself.

Good Ol' Freda is constructed from a series of interviews with the present-day Freda, one of the few insiders staunch enough in her principles to have refrained from cashing in with a tell-all book or some other such invasive, titillating rubbish. Even now, when asked if she'd ever bedded a Beatle, the eternally loyal lady remains tight-lipped, though surely many will infer much based on the twinkle in her eye while answering, "pass" to the query.

To avoid the trappings of many a historical documentary — a parade of lip-flapping, disembodied heads — director Ryan White (Pelada) keeps things visually stimulating with a treasure trove of old photographs and exclusive promotional items, video footage, interviews with survivors from other upstart Liverpool acts from the early '60s and modern visits with Freda to important locations in her story, like the Empire Theatre, where the Beatles opened for Little Richard in 1962.

Freda's unique position provides more insight into the personal temperaments of individual Beatles than most official celebrations of their legacy. Of greatest interest to the still obsessive legions of "Beatle People" out there will be Freda's intimate knowledge of, and friendships with, the parents and caretakers of John, Paul, George and Ritchie, as she affectionately calls the underappreciated percussionist. However, what leaves the greatest impression, as a historical document, is Freda. For such a private person, she's a natural storyteller, with down-to-earth charisma to burn. Moreover, she embodies a resolute code of morality that's inspiring, especially in our age of opportunistic over-sharing. Her reasons for "why now?" are not for self-gain; she has the greater good of historical record in mind and, most of all, wants people to stop asking her about her 11-year orbit around a once-in-a-lifetime, or longer, phenomenon.

Good Ol' Freda is a windfall for those hungry for any and every titbit of info available about the young men that transformed celebrity culture, as well as an insightful look at how one humble young lady stood her ground as a rock in the eye of the storm. (Kinosmith)