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Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Featuring Barry Gibb, Peter Brown, Eric Clapton, Vince Melouney, Mark Ronson, Noel Gallagher, Mykaell Riley, Lulu, Nick Jonas, Linda Gibb, Alan Kendall, Yvonne Gibb, Bill Oakes, Dennis Byron, Blue Weaver, Karl Richardson, Chris Martin, Albhy Galuten, Justin Timberlake, Nicky Siano, Charlie Steiner, Vince Lawrence, Dwina Gibb, and archival footage of Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Hugh Gibb, Barbara Gibb, Robert Stigwood, Arif Mardin, Lindsey Buckingham, Alice Cooper, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Dahl, John Travolta, Ed Sheeran and Andy Gibb.

Directed by Frank Marshall.

Distributed by HBO Documentary Films. 111 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened from the 2020 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Although they don’t always get the respect of say Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon or several others, the Gibb brothers – Barry, Robin and Maurice – should be right up at the top of the list of the great songwriters of the 20th Century. Not only that, they were amazing performers – natural singers with an uncanny sense of harmony. They created some of the most gorgeous ballads of the 1960s and early 1970s before reinventing themselves as a dance band, which led to one of the greatest hot streaks in music history. As pointed out in this film, from 1977 through 1979, it was not unusual to find songs that they either performed or wrote in four of the top five positions of the pop charts.

The songs speak for themselves. “Massachusetts.” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” “Jive Talkin’.” “Staying Alive.” “Run to Me.” “Too Much Heaven.” “To Love Somebody.” “I Started a Joke.” “How Deep is Your Love?” “Nights on Broadway.” “You Should Be Dancing.” “Lonely Days.” That’s just scratching the surface of the Bee Gees’ hits. Most artists would give anything for half as many songs that became musical standards.

This is at least the third full documentary on The Bee Gees of the new millennium, each one exactly a decade apart. Previously, there was Bee Gees: This Is Where I Came In in 2000, which was released in conjunction with what turned out to be the band’s final original album of the same name. Then, in 2010 they released Bee Gees: In Our Own Time. And now, as timely as the census, we have our 2020 Bee Gees doc, Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.

Unfortunately, since two of the brothers Gibb are now dead (three, if you count youngest brother Andy, who had a very successful solo career), the filmmakers had to use archival interview footage of everyone but Barry (and they even used some older footage of him). I can’t swear to it, because it has been a long time since I saw it, but I am almost certain that the interview footage from Robin and Maurice (and some of Barry, too) was the same footage used in This Is Where I Came In. Not only that, since Maurice died in 2003, I’m almost positive that they previously had resurrected some of this same interview footage from In Our Own Time.

However, there is new interview footage of Barry here, as well as from their producers, musical fans and members of their band, so this is not all just a repeat of previous films.

And, let’s face it, the Bee Gee’s life story and most importantly their music is endlessly entertaining, so if they are going to release a film on it every decade or so, even though the band has not released any new product in about 20 years, I’m on board.

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? actually adds a touch of tragic pathos to the story. Barry Gibb – the oldest of the brothers and probably the most recognizable – is now alone. As he states towards the end of the film, he still misses every single one of them and still feels like they should be performing together, even though they are long gone. Andy died soon after his 30th birthday in 1988, of a heart attack due to a previous drug problem. (He had just been announced as an official member of the Bee Gees soon before his death.) Maurice died in 2003, due to a surprise complication on what was supposed to be a fairly standard surgery. Robin succumbed to cancer in 2012.

The film occasionally plays fast and loose with their history. During Robin’s early 1970s break with his brothers, the film says that the band was completely broken up for a year and a half, but Barry and Maurice released the Bee Gees’ Cucumber Castle album and telefilm as a duo, while Robin tried his hand as a solo artist – which was shown here. (However, the film ignores Barry and Robin’s solo attempts in the mid-80s.)

Also, as far as the disco backlash that finally knocked the band from the top reaches of the charts, the film blames the – granted stupid – novelty song “Disco Duck” for the death of disco. But they forget to acknowledge that song came out a year and a half before Saturday Night Fever – in fact, it was even used mockingly in the film (though not on the soundtrack album) during a scene of middle-aged squares learning how to disco dance.

However, it is nice that as a talking head, house musician Vince Lawrence, who was working as an usher at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on the day of Steve Dahl’s infamous “Disco Demolition” stunt, which did essentially kill disco, called it out for what it was – a racist and homophobic book burning.

However, calling the Bee Gees a disco band would be way, way underestimating them. They were one of the great pop groups of their time, and Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is almost two hours of sheer bliss.

(Ed. Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 annual Philadelphia Film Festival has been changed to a virtual festival. All films and Q&As will be available for streaming. You can get information on the festival at their website

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: October 28, 2020.

Photo courtesy of HBO.


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