DOCUMENTARY "Beastie Boys Story"
WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Apple TV+
WHAT IT’S ABOUT In the musically segregated 1980s, three white kids from New York called the Beastie Boys broke boundaries by mixing fun-loving rap with headbanging rock. Few would have predicted that the guys behind the frat-house anthem “Fight for Your Right” would grow into alt-rock heroes, acclaimed for their innovative sampling and attention to musical craft. By the 2000s, the Beastie Boys were festival headliners, beloved by music fans of all stripes — from rock snobs to hip-hop heads to shirtless yokels.
When crucial member Adam “MCA” Yauch died of cancer in 2012 — he was 47 — surviving Beasties Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz respectfully chose to disband. The closest they’ve come to a reunion was a promotional tour for “Beastie Boys Book,” a 571-page tome published in 2018. That tour, in which Diamond and Horovitz shared memories and reenacted scenes from their lives, proved so popular that they recreated it over a three-night run at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre last year under the direction of Spike Jonze, their frequent video-collaborator. “Beastie Boys Story” is more of a concert film than a traditional documentary.
MY SAY An alternative name for this production might be “Growing Up Beastie.” It’s basically a very large slideshow and home-video party hosted by a two musicians who helped define the hip-hop ‘80s, indie-rock ‘90s and beyond. Though the presentation feels a little canned — complete with teleprompters and “surprise” guest appearances — it also allows Diamond and Horovitz to share personal insights, make some amends and ensure that Yauch is remembered as the band’s driving creative force.
“Beastie Boys Story” begins about as far back as possible, with the three kids knocking around the punk clubs of New York City and forming an inchoate band with friends, including drummer Kate Schellenbach. Back then, rock and rap mixed more freely on the streets than on radio, and it’s fascinating to watch the barely pubescent Beasties soak it all up and attempt to create something out of it. Super-producer Rick Rubin, then still in the dorms of NYU, brings not only his ears and instincts but a love of pro wrestling that — when you think about it — must have informed the Beasties’ early image as swaggering upstarts.
Schellenbach’s quick fade from this testosterone-driven scene was probably inevitable, but Diamond and Horovitz express deep regret over it. They also hang their heads over “Girls,” a famously chauvinist track from their chart-topping debut, “Licensed to Ill” (1986). Horovitz says it was meant “ironically,” which is a bit of a cop-out, but it’s worth remembering that the Beasties began apologizing for such lyrics in the mid-1990s, well before today’s concerns about “toxic masculinity.”
Perhaps because the trio presented as such a tight-knit unit — all for one and one for all — “Beastie Boys Story” feels most important as a memorial to Yauch. His bandmates repeatedly express amazement at his creative energy and wide-ranging ideas, from the bass line that laid the foundation for “Sabotage” (today the band’s most iconic song) to the first Tibetan Freedom Concert that he helped organize in 1996. Struggling to deliver a eulogy to his friend, Horovitz chokes up more than once and finally asks Diamond to take over.
More such genuine moments would have made “Beastie Boys Story” a more compelling watch. Still, it’s a chance to spend to an evening with two guys who provided the soundtrack to many a life.
BOTTOM LINE Two Beasties take a trip down memory lane and pay tribute to a departed bandmate.