Streaming: Documentary about the Beach Boys: Not just “Good Vibrations”

With hits like “Surfin’ USA” and “Fun Fun Fun,” the Beach Boys wrote pop history. But their career was marked by private dramas. A new documentary on Disney+ pays tribute to the cult band.

When the biographical drama “Love & Mercy” about the life of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson hit theaters in 2014, Beach Boys frontman Mike Love was not impressed. Disney should have made the film, said Love sarcastically, after all it was a fairy tale. Ten years later, the 83-year-old worked with Wilson and other band members on a documentary about the Beach Boys. It was produced by Disney, of all things.

The film, simply titled “The Beach Boys,” will be shown on the Disney+ streaming service from May 24. It is announced as a “celebration” and is primarily intended as a tribute to the popular cult band and their music. However, it is not a fairy tale, as negative aspects are also highlighted. After all, in the long career of the Beach Boys – to name one of their big hits – there were not only “Good Vibrations.”

History of a musical family

“I think things happened in the lives of individuals and decisions were made in life that weren’t so great,” Mike Love admits in an interview with the German Press Agency in London. “But that would mean losing sight of the true story of the Beach Boys: the work we created, the songs and their beauty and the energy of some of the songs. I think that’s the real story.”

This story began in the parents’ house of the brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson in Hawthorne, California. With their cousin Mike and friends, the group first specialized in vocal harmonies and then in a Californian sound with songs about surfing (although only Dennis surfed). Singles like “Surfin’ Safari” or “Surfin’ USA” were followed by increasingly sophisticated compositions by the introverted musical genius Brian Wilson: “Good Vibrations”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or “God Only Knows”. The lyrics were mostly written by Love.

All Beach Boys have their say

In addition to lead singer Love, who now holds the rights to the name, and Bruce Johnston (81), with whom he still performs concerts as “The Beach Boys”, the documentary features Brian Wilson (81) and other former band members as well as various companions. The brothers Dennis and Carl, who died too young, and even the parents can be heard in archive interviews. Music stars such as Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac and singer Janelle Monáe also speak out.

In contrast to the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, internal tensions grew with their success. Murry Wilson, himself a musician and the father of Brian, Carl and Dennis, was initially their sponsor and manager, but his authoritarian style increasingly made him a burden. The documentary features a recording from the studio of a discussion between Brian and his drunken father.

Brian, who was mentally ill, found concert appearances a burden and soon concentrated entirely on studio work, while the others went on tour without him. However, the social and musical climate changed drastically towards the end of the 1960s. The Beach Boys were suddenly out of fashion. On top of that, Murry Wilson sold off the song rights without consulting the band – a catastrophic mistake, as it later turned out.

Disputes and court cases

“In life there are ups and downs,” says Love today. “Sometimes there are arguments that lead to physical confrontations. But the essential core of the Beach Boys is still the harmonies and the love of music and family. There are sometimes differences of opinion in the family.” That’s putting it mildly. Love sued his cousin Wilson several times, sometimes successfully. But no one probably felt like a winner.

Although all members got together again for the band’s 50th anniversary in 2012 and went on tour together, the friendship was no longer there. When the film deals with the broken relationship with his cousin, the extroverted Love surprisingly fights back tears in front of the camera. “That was a very emotional moment,” says director Frank Marshall in an interview with dpa. “Mike remembered how much he loved Brian and working with him.”

Marshall is a Hollywood heavyweight and is known as the producer of the “Indiana Jones” series and countless film classics. Most recently, the 77-year-old directed several music documentaries, including the excellent and very personal film “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”.

Emotional meeting in front of the camera

As a teenager, Marshall himself played instrumental surf music. “I asked myself: Why was their band successful and mine not?” he explains his motivation for the Beach Boys documentary. He immediately provides the answer to his question. “It was because they were much more talented and had lyrics for their songs.”

The Hollywood veteran managed to get all the living Beach Boys together in front of the camera – on the beach where the cover photo of their debut album was taken. “It was like a family reunion,” Marshall enthuses. “They laughed, cried, told stories and sang together. It was an incredible moment.”

It is questionable whether the former bandmates, relatives and friends have become closer again as a result of the meeting in Pacific Cove. “I don’t know,” says Love, who found the short reunion “particularly nice.” A few “good vibrations,” then, but also a happy ending to the Beach Boys story? “I don’t think the story is over,” says Bruce Johnston, who hardly gets a word in in the dpa interview alongside the talkative Mike Love. “Because the music – thanks to Disney+ – will simply go on.”


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