The new documentary “Beastie Boys Story” (which can be streamed now on AppleTv+) whisks viewers back to the late 80s and early 90s, a time when MTV was king and a group of white, Jewish rappers from New York were taking the music world by storm. The band ‘s creativity made waves and they rode those waves to monumental levels of success. The Beastie Boys combination of rock and rap included catchy rhymes, pop culture references, layers of samples, and inside jokes to deliver a sound people had never heard before. Now the atypical artists back to revisit their career in an atypical documentary.
Directed by Spike Jonze (who directed the band’s breakthrough video, “Sabotage”), the documentary retains much of the group’s boyish attitudes as it takes us on a journey that spans their entire careers. Jonze avoids some of the pitfalls of your typical dry documentary but keeping entertainment level up every step of the way. Recorded in front of a live audience at King’s Theatre in Brooklyn, the two remaining members, Mike D (Mike Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) do all the heavy lifting, narrating their life story in front of a giant video screen showing clips and photos like a high-end family slide show. Any fan will instantly feel the massive hole created by the absence of the missing third, and founding member of the Beastie Boys, M.C.A. (Adam Yauch) who died in 2012. Although he makes an appearance through the video screen, his absence can be felt during the presentation and in the voices of the surviving band members.
No matter what your take is on the Beastie Boys, Mike D, and Ad-Rock, put on an entertaining show. They are natural storytellers, who share the same energy and love for the subject (them) as they reminisce from one story to the next. The 120-minute running time is divided into chapters and told in chronological order. In that short time, they cover a lot of ground, taking viewers on a nostalgia trip through the band’s history, the wildest moments, and some deeply personal aspects of the band’s existence. The pacing is fairly brisk, avoiding anyone chapter from overstaying its welcome. Honestly, most fans would probably take an extended running time – because the stories are both insightful and entertaining.
We witness the band’s growth as artists and human beings. They learned the ropes in what they referred to as “rap finishing school” which meant touring and hanging out with influential rap legends like Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, Biz Markie and more. What they learned from the masters helped them but the music they produced was always their own. After their debut album, they made a concerted effort to challenge themselves as artists. For this reason, the band took it quite hard when their second album “Paul’s Boutique” was a financial disappointment. But, instead of allowing their doubt to have them quit or revert to the familiar sounds of the previous album, they worked harder on their craft, experimenting with new sounds and teaching themselves new instruments.
These sounds are present across the soundtrack which, as expected, is a wall to wall Beastie Boys music front and center. Fans you may want to enjoy the doc wearing headphones or connected to a quality sound system because as some of the bass lines it is almost impossible to resist turning up the volume and absorb the signature Beastie Boys sound.
Long time fans will enjoy that endless video footage that goes well beyond their music videos. Rare TV interviews, candid clips, and raw footage inside their studio paint a picture of just why these guys became so popular in the first place. Such long-buried gems as the time Yauch’s uncle, Nathaniel Hornblower, (who would look suspiciously like M.C.A., if not for the bushy mustache and Swedish attire) invaded the MTV Video Awards stage. He shocked the crowd by hijacking the mic to declare the award “a farce” after the Sabotage director, Spike Jonze was not given the honor. Pure magic.
The last quarter of the documentary is where it takes a more serious and intimate turn as the pair discuss the regrets and their losses. From their insensitive lyrics to the band members that they pushed out of the band, to the party bro personas they adopted after their initial success, the group is not without regrets. Through everything, they tried to stay true to who they were.
An even tougher pill to swallow is the passing of Adam Yauch. Throughout the doc, their love and respect for him are on full display. They saw him as an enigma, teaching himself to play a classical bass one day converting to Buddhism the next. He was the wild card who also served as the glue of the band. Listening to them reflect on their lost friend makes you realize just how much they loved the guy.
This documentary is a wonderful ride that should be enjoyed by fans old and new. It covers much more than described here. It is just a great deal of fun, will make you laugh, will have you rocking, all while delivering a tremendous amount of heart. If you have been looking for an excuse to subscribe to AppleTV+, this is it.
The Beastie Boys doc delivers the band’s story with humor and heart.