Depending on the age of a person, their perception of The Bee Gees is a bit different. The eras of the band shift sonically from their origins in 60’s pop and vocal harmonizing, to the epic grandeur, and some might say, bombast, of the late 70’s disco period, toward the future, and their ability to remain a force with incredible draw and melodic mainstream hits.
In Our Own Time addresses a remarkable amount of that time, through the band history presented, largely, as a trio, interpreting their own careers. What makes this new documentary eerie is the way late brother Maurice appears to be equally represented in the storytelling. The bespectacled Gibb passed away in 2003, in a sudden and tragic loss attributed to a twisted intestine. However, he left behind long-form contemporary interview footage, shot shortly before his death, tackling the band legacy in a way that compliments the footage of the two surviving brothers. It makes for a 2010 release that appears almost as if Maurice is still alive, seven years after his passing, as opposed to Barry and Robin alone, sifting through their history. While there is a bit of that, and the interview material oddly rarely features Maurice with his brothers speaking, even in older archival footage, for the most part, it maintains a telling from the point of view of the trio.
Opening with a montage of stadium-sized clips of We Should Be Dancing, the storyline quickly goes back to the beginning, and early footage of the group performing as kids. Maurice shares insight into the connection to the Everly Brothers, noting they just “added a third brother” to accommodate their trio size. A revealing comment is a recollection of an early childhood rehearsal interrupted by their father coming in, who said he thought they had the radio on. Both from their early achievements, through to decades of longevity, their raw talent is demonstrated. Classic pictures are featured, as is homage to DJ Bill Gates, who not only named the band, but got them crucial early exposure. Other early clips fans will enjoy have the young Gibb brothers performing Time Is Passing By on TV, covering and discussing The Beatles, rough 60’s music videos, on Ed Sullivan and perspective on the emergence of Robert Stigwood as a key ingredient in their success.
The behind the scenes storyline to songs gets aired, and stories of realizing star status had been obtained, like being welcomed into the exclusive Speakeasy Club. But the ego battles that plagued the group, even in the early days over which single would be released as an A side, based on which brother was handling lead vocals, is on display, too. Watching, there is a sense that it continued on, and may even still be a factor on some level, with the surviving brothers. Robin’s departure during the shooting of the Cucumber Castle film, and the quick reunion all tell the story of what kinds of realities and pressures lurked behind the front of catchy vocals and smiling handsome sibling teamwork. Barry discovering his falsetto voice is a very interesting segment.
An intense look at the over-the-top Saturday Night Fever era is featured, and captured best in a line from Barry, who notes they were the band disco was built around. The group made legitimate in-roads on R & B / Urban charts, and the success with a black American audience is explored in some of the richer moments of education In Our Own Time provides. Another example of that would be getting to learn how different Andy Gibb was from his brothers, how his career fit into theirs, and the transition out of the 70’s into a sort of non-existence, knowing they needed to give the bit a rest.
Their ingenuity is often displayed, and while the compositions working with Barbara Streisand, Kenny Rogers, and Celine Dion show their continued work after the seventies period, what also drives home their overall continued appeal is the way The Bee Gees are displayed transcending time. From 60’s popsters to folksy hit-makers; ferocious disco kings to soulful pop ballad sensations… the group evolved over time, sometimes ahead of the curve, or landing on top of it. But they were never trapped in an era, and not of one musical period. The nearly two-hour journey shows they spanned generations. A timelessness to their work becomes apparent when seeing them come full-circle, by way of more contemporary tracks like This Is Where I Came In and The Man In The Middle, returning to their 60’s sound.
The ending of the presentation, dealing with Maurice and his passing, gets emotional. Barry and Robin together performing You Don’t Know What It’s Like acoustic is a tear-jerking, painful finale, even if you started watching as less than a Bee Gees fan. It’s both rewarding and painful to see the two brothers soldiering on. You can’t help but wish all three were there, or coming away impressed by their talent, and chameleon-like ability to move through pop culture.