Here's a (Not So) Little Story I’ve Got to Tell
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Feeling strangely nostalgic about the ‘80s despite being born in the 2000s? Stuck at home with nothing new to watch? A big fan of rap music? Then “Beastie Boys Story” is perfect for you. Directed by Spike Jonze, the film isn’t so much a documentary focusing on the career of legendary hip-hop group Beastie Boys as one about three kids from New York City growing up and taking control of their creative legacy.
“Beastie Boys Story,” now streaming on Apple TV+, is a tribute to the lasting impact of Beastie Boys as told by their own Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). Notably missing of course is Adam Yauch (MCA), who passed away in 2012 from cancer. Unlike other documentaries, “Beastie Boys Story” was filmed in front of a live audience at Brooklyn’s legendary Kings Theater; the members speak on stage, giving it a more intimate and casual tone—like a less academic TED Talk. Though definitely scripted, as seen in their jokes about the teleprompters, their dynamic feels more like a casual reunion of friends.
The film was originally slotted to premiere at the South by Southwest festival and subsequently show as a limited release in selected IMAX theaters. Due to the cancellation of the festival due to COVID-19, however, the documentary was instead made available for streaming on April 24.
Director Jonze first collaborated with the band in the 1990s for the music videos of their songs “Sure Shot” and “Sabotage.” Jonze’s background in shooting and directing skate videos is clear in the creative angles and lenses used in the film, as well as the piecing together of many short clips to create a cohesive story. Though “Beastie Boys Story” is a live performance, Jonze’s style is still evident in how the clips fit perfectly with the evolution of the band.
The story is split into several “chapters,” starting with their beginnings in 1980s New York City as a “hardcore” band. The film documents the band’s growth from a punk band into a rap trio, including the falling-out with original drummer and Stuyvesant High School alum, Kate Schellenbach. With the band transitioning from the New York City punk rock to the rap scene, Schellenbach didn’t fit with their new dynamic, leading to Horovitz, Diamond, and Yauch phasing her out of the band in a way they would later regret. Schellenbach’s eviction from the band had a lasting impact on all three members and was pivotal in their evolution into unexpected feminists. Though definitely misogynistic in their early days, the Beastie Boys changed their attitudes and behavior drastically as they got older, as seen in “Sure Shot,” a 1994 single where Yauch sings, “I want to say a little something that's long overdue / The disrespect to women has to got to be through.” After its release, the group was often questioned about the integrity of that line, to which Yauch responded, “I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person forever.”
Moving into the next chapters, Diamond and Horovitz said the new songs or albums “changed everything,” the first being the song “Cooky Puss” (yes, that ice cream cake from Carvel). “Cooky Puss” opened the Beastie Boys up to the nightclub scene of the ‘80s, including a gig at the famed Studio 54. The song also led them to Rick Rubin, who co-founded Def Jam with Russell Simmons in 1984.
After establishing their beginnings, the documentary delves into the impact their first LP, “Licensed To Ill,'' had not only on the band, but also on the world. Their song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” originally a joke about frat guys, became the Beastie Boys anthem and the signature dynamic between the three bandmates. Keeping up with that lifestyle proved to be too difficult for the three, leading to a slight falling-out after multiple tours, during which they were briefly living in separate cities and weren’t creating music together. This is when their story becomes less about fighting for their right to party and more about fighting for their right to have creative control. Pressure from Def Jam to make a new record led to the band’s departure from the label to Capitol Records. Ultimately, the switch to Capitol was good, as it gave the Beastie Boys the creative flexibility to create “Paul’s Boutique,” which brought the band back together again.
In terms of creating a fun look into the history of Beastie Boys, “Beastie Boys Story” does an excellent job at showing those memories and the hardships that came with them. From a fan’s perspective, the film humanizes the Beastie Boys and creates an even stronger connection between fans and their music. The story of the band is already great, and the combination of Horovitz and Diamond’s chemistry, Jonze’s direction, and the incredible script makes “Beastie Boys Story” an unforgettable documentary.
“Beastie Boys Story” is not just a description of Beastie Boys’ history; it’s also a history lesson on the origins of rap music. It’s a coming of age story. It’s a love letter to New York City. It’s a story about losing sight of who you are and finding yourself again. It’s a eulogy to one of the most creative and thoughtful musicians in modern history. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a nostalgia-filled narrative of the evolution of a band not only as musicians, but also as friends.