A reprised documentary under a new title and with updated footage, In Our Own Time‘s release coincides with the Brothers Gibb’s 50th anniversary in music.
Fifty years. Now that’s saying something, even if you’re not a fan, and believe me, I live with a nonbeliever.
When my daughter was a baby, I’d try to find a gentle song to ease her fussiness and end the crying on those occasions when she’d wake up in the middle of the night.
One night, I randomly selected “I Started a Joke” and I found that my gentle singing of it actually made the baby scream louder. Before anyone thinks that this was because of my inability to carry a tune (which is completely true), I tested this song on future middle of the night “gigs” and discovered beyond a doubt that it was baby’s hatred of this 1968 Bee Gees’ hit and not my singing.
If I made it to the “And I fell out of bed / Hurting my head / On some things that I said” line, my daughter’s cries escalated into blood curdling wails.
Fast forward to the present, when I’m sitting down to review In Our Own Time alone, when my now three-and-a-half year old daughter politely walks into my room to ask, “Whatcha watchin’?”
“It’s the Bee Gees!” I tell her happily, as I am a fan of the three brothers, particularly during their late ’60s phase.
Not my little girl, however. She took off running during “Every Christian Lionhearted Man,” her long and extended whine bouncing with every step.
So I get it if you don’t like the Bee Gees, while encouraging you to give their late ’60s phase a shot and to appreciate how legitimate their mid ’70s R&B period was.
Maybe the best place to start on that re-evaluation is with In Our Own Time, which sheds light on every phase of the brothers’ career, making the two-hour documentary a total breeze.
Their story starts humbly – a trio of big-toothed hayseeds that all had a love of the Every Brothers, and a God-given ability to actually be able to hit those dreamy harmonies with an extra voice to spare. At one point in the film, after the band had become enormously successful, a talk show host has them recall the first song that got them to understand their abilities. The twins – Maurice and Robin – were six and their older brother, Barry, had just received a guitar for his ninth birthday. They worked out the harmonies for the song “Lollipop,” a tune in which everyone reading this remembers putting their finger in their mouth for the obligatory “Pop!” at the end. When the talk show host asks the brothers – now a few decades older – for an impromptu rendition of “Lollipop,” they pause before delivering a hair-raising perfect three-part harmony.
No finger popping needed.
It wasn’t until the Bee Gees discovered The Beatles that they really began to focus on the process of 1.) becoming successful and 2.) writing really good songs.
The very notion of a 19-year-old boy telling his parents that he and his two 16-year-old twin brothers would be moving the family from Australia to England, on the slim chance that they would get noticed and begin releasing hit singles … I mean, what parent allows that?
Evidently, the father of the Bee Gees does, and maybe as a former bandleader himself, he knew the distinction between God-given talent and the kind that he had: where you had to work at it.
Two hundred million records later, that was probably the best decision a father could make, that and the brothers’ signing with Robert Stigwood, who funded the band’s efforts at trying to outdo the Beatles with orchestras and self-penned melodrama.
In Our Own Time follows the band crashing under the weight of their popularity and from the stress of making Odessa, a record that doesn’t receive much love from the brothers.
It follows them through their early ’70s success, and then documents their “downfall,” evidently a 24-month period prior to the discovery of Barry Gibb’s falsetto, where they failed to chart a hit. Of course, two years sounds like nothing in today’s musical climate, but for these overachievers, it spelled the end.
And “the end” meant “fuck it,” in a manner that most non-Bee Gee fans wouldn’t quite appreciate on the surface, but the very idea of three white brothers ignoring the social graces and attempting an overtly rhythm and blues direction is ridiculous.
Until you hear “Jive Talkin’,” and then you understand that it’s probably best to just let them work with their own instincts, because convention and caution only get in the way of the brothers’ seemingly limitless talents.
From there, In Our Own Time does as good a job as it can of tracking the Bee Gees’ ascension into superstardom, at which point the story of the Brothers Gibb begins to slow. It’s not the fault of the filmmaker – how can they make a success story for three brothers better after they’ve moved from famous musicians into famous and insanely wealthy musicians? And since this is a film that’s sanctioned by the Bee Gees’ camp, there is very little criticism of things that really need to be criticized: “Islands in the Stream,” the song written for Celine Dion and that piece of shit Sgt Pepper movie come to mind.
Despite those flaws that have more to do with personal preference and maybe my own desire to let readers know that yours truly had moments of real contempt for the Bee Gees, In Our Own Time does a great job of effectively showcasing the brothers’ personalities.
All three give enormous credit where credit is due, and their career doesn’t seem to have turned them into assholes. I will say this: Out of all three, Maurice sounds like the coolest brother to be around – and Barry and Robin often seem to refer to him as the cushion to buffer their much larger egos.
This makes his death even more potent in the end. The death of younger brother Andy Gibb is detailed some toward the end, and it suggests that his passing did take the wind out of their sails. But Maurice’s death seems to have brought the Bee Gees into dry-dock. Sure, there are plans of future performances – who could blame the two surviving brothers for wanting to revisit such a vast catalog – but there’s little beyond securing the story of the Bee Gees rather than adding to it.
For that, In Our Own Time succeeds. Real fans may nitpick about whether this lives up to the completeness of their other biographical films, but I found it a great bit of retrospective and self-congratulating vignettes.
And why not? After 50 years of performing, there are probably a few things in the Bee Gees canon that we’d like to shake their hand for, even if we can’t admit it.
Trailer: Bee Gees – In Our Own Time