DVD Review: Bee Gees “In our Own Time”
All Access Review: B-
Little mention is made of “disco demolition night” in the new Bee Gees’ biographical documentary DVD “In Our Own Time.” Not a proud moment in music history for anyone involved, the July 1979 event, exceedingly fascist in its design even if its blockheaded organizers never imagined the devilish destruction and chaos it would incite, was the culmination of a severe backlash against what many perceived to be an utterly synthetic sound and polyester, cocaine-fueled lifestyle.
And maybe disco was all that, but the tide of hatred that swept over Comiskey Park that crazed night in Chicago during a twi-night doubleheader between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers was pretty frightening and hard to fathom. Then again, when you combine the torches-and-pitchfork sentimentality of mob violence and free-flowing rivers of beer, perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that a half-baked plan – dreamed up by shock jocks, of course – to blow up a crate full of disco records on a baseball field in front of a stirred-up crowd would end in disaster.
Much of that mindless anger was directed at one group: the Bee Gees, disco’s royal family. The “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, one of the biggest albums of all-time, ignited disco fever worldwide in the mid-1970s and it made the brothers Gibb international superstars. And in one fell swoop, all the good work the Bee Gees had done in the late ‘60s, the gorgeous melancholy pop and Beatlesque psychedelia of early hits like “I Started a Joke,” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” and “New York Mining Disaster,” among others, was forgotten. Only in recent years, with Rhino Records reissues of beautifully crafted LPs like Bee Gees’ 1st, Idea, Horizontal and Odessa, their crowning achievement, has the world begun to recognize their songwriting and studio genius.
“In Our Own Time” follows the lives of all the Bee Gees, from their childhood on the Isle of Man to the family’s momentous move to Australia, where they gained some fame as teen idols, and then onto their return to Britain, where they just missed out on the Merseybeat hullabaloo but built themselves into pop hitmakers, and their first forays into R&B and blue-eyed soul that would transform them, in fits and starts, into a glitzy, hairy-chested, gold-chain sporting disco juggernaut. Wide in its breadth, “In Our Own Time” flashes a vast assortment of vintage live clips, behind-the-scenes studio footage, revealing interviews – including extended time with the now-deceased Maurice Gibb – with all three members and many others involved in their meteoric rise and their sad tragedies, the most damaging of which was the death of younger brother Andy, a huge recording star in his own right whose lost battle with substance abuse has been well-documented.
Had the DVD not been so ambitious in scope, had it sailed on through the group’s halcyon disco days and called it a day, “In Our Own Time” could have been an essential historical document of the Bee Gees’ most prolific and exciting period. But, the filmmakers wanted to tell the whole Bee Gees story from beginning to the present, and while a noble effort, the story gets bogged down in minutia from the least interesting and blandest musical era in the band’s otherwise glorious history – see Barry’s embarrassingly saccharine, overly emotional duets with Barbra Streisand, an atrocity well worth forgetting.
What’s more, there’s a missed opportunity to dig into other, less savory aspects of the Bee Gees’ career. For example, no mention is made of their involvement in one of the worst movies ever made, 1987’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with Peter Frampton. “In Our Own Time” is simply a celebration of the Bee Gees’ artistry, especially those incredible vocal harmonies that rival those of the Beach Boys and their beguiling melodies, and for the most part, it’s an interesting study. All of the brothers are good interviews, pulling no punches about their sibling arguments and Maurice’s alcoholism, and there are plenty of visual treats from their 40 years in the industry. But the film drags at a time when it should wrap things up, spending too much time on the “lifetime achievement awards” they’ve received in recent years. It completely avoids some touchy subjects and gives too much attention to others that don’t warrant it. The lack of any extras and the scant liner notes don’t enhance the overall package.
Still, “In Our Own Time” does what it can to enhance the luster of the Bee Gees’ career, ferreting out the songwriting and recording details that few other such undertakings have ever set out to do and explaining how doggedly the group persevered in its attempts to morph into a stylized soul and R&B outfit that would gain the respect of their Motown heroes and models like The Stylistics. Those features alone, however, cannot quite atone for the DVD’s sins of omission.
- Peter Lindblad