It’s a weekend rich in music of all types. Settle down, listen and enjoy. But, first, if you have an opinion on the Bee Gees, put it aside and open your mind.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (Saturday, HBO 8 p.m.) is a magnificent, richly textured documentary about the band, the Gibb family and their story. Beautifully done and made by veteran producer and filmmaker Frank Marshall, it is explicitly about music, its creation, the impact of fame and the complex emotional tides when a family works together.
It spends little time on the origin story of the Gibb brothers of Brisbane, Australia, and goes directly to the arrival of the Bee Gees in England in 1967. Dad Hugh Gibb believed his sons Barry, Robin and Maurice were gifted and deserved a shot at glory. He wrote a letter to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, whose assistant was mildly intrigued and handed the letter to a junior in the office, one Robert Stigwood, because he happened to be Australian. If you’re familiar with pop history, you’ll know Stigwood became a manager and producer with an uncanny knack for understanding the market, a knack that would climax in Saturday Night Fever.
The story here glitters with insight and compelling footage. The Bee Gees became a sensation, wrote classic ballads and then, briefly disintegrated. There is commentary from Noel Gallagher and one of the Jonas brothers about the tricky side of creative families, and excellent interviews from the vaults with Robin (died in 2012) and Maurice (died in 2003), a very contemplative Barry, and many wives, girlfriends and musical collaborators.
The meat of the story is a vivid and detailed account of the band’s retreat to Miami in the mid-1970s, when their music was out of fashion. We get a vast amount of information about how and why they changed their sound and approach, and how they were, not by chance, the perfect creators of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
The creative process unique to family performers is teased out and the extraordinary backlash against disco music – which condemned the Bee Gees to infamy – is treated as a racist, homophobic phenomenon. And there is sadness, as Barry reflects on the life he and his brothers lived: “I am beginning to recognize the fact that nothing is true,” he says. “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.” And later he says, “I’d rather have them [my brothers] here, and no hits at all.” This is no ordinary “rockumentary,” it’s an epic story of life, creation and loss.
Also airing this weekend
Rock N’ Roll Christmas (Saturday, CBC 8 p.m. and CBC Gem) is an earnest and rather mindless but enjoyable holiday tale. Ashlyn (Beverely Mitchell) and Bonnie Rose (Catherine Mary Stewart) were once a mother/daughter singing duo but drifted apart in bitterness. Fifteen years later they are brought together to record a Christmas album. They find love and forgiveness, and make toe-tapping, light country music.
Independent Lens: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Sunday, some PBS stations, 11 p.m.) is a terrific and touching portrait of Fred Rogers. It doesn’t make him a saint but it does probe deeply into his background and why he was the ideal children’s TV host.
Me, Mom & Covid (CBC Gem) is a lovely and touching short doc about coping with the death of an elderly parent and ensuring the safety of a sibling with a disability during COVID-19. But this isn’t any family story. The mom is Sara Sexton, matriarch of the Sexton family on Newfoundland, which included Tommy, a member of Codco, who died of complications from AIDS, and his mother stepped in to the spotlight as an AIDS activist. Made by Mary Sexton and featuring Rick Mercer and multiple Sextons, it’s a small, powerful film about how the past few months changed everything.
Finally, there are two major music productions streaming this weekend. First, Opera Atelier’s Something Rich & Strange is baroque opera up-close for the screen and gorgeous. At its core is Measha Brueggergosman’s headlong, magnificent voice. (OperaAtelier.com, ticket $25) Then there is Messiah/Complex from Against the Grain Theatre, an alternative, filmed version of Handel’s Messiah, featuring four choirs and a diverse cast of dozens of Canadian soloists from every province and territory. (On AtG’s YouTube channel from Sunday, first by registering at atgtheatre.com and free.)
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