Here’s a little something that’s long overdue: a two-hour retrospective of the Beastie Boys’ career, originally slated for a limited cinema release but ultimately skipping straight to Apple TV+ since this is no time to get ill.
Billed as a “live documentary” adapted from their successful (and substantial) book and accompanying tour, Beastie Boys Story finds Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz in typically ramshackle yet reflective mood as they reminisce on 40 years of friendship with Adam Yauch, who passed in 2012.
The boys (now men) take to the stage in Yauch’s native Brooklyn for what Consequence of Sound calls “more like an avant-garde comedy special or a particularly cool TED Talk than a traditional doc.” Tears are shed, names are dropped and cues are missed, bringing their fast and loose lyrical delivery to the oft-neglected teleprompter script.
“It was out of our comfort zone, for sure, but I wasn’t nervous to be doing stupid s**t onstage. That’s easy,” Horovitz tells Vanity Fair. “In our lives, we all tell the same stories over and over to our friends. But when you write it down, then have to stick to a script and say it out loud to a bunch of people, it’s weird. We’re not necessarily very good at it.”
Culled from four of these stage shows, the film is directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Her), whom the band met in 1991. “We were about 21 when we met Spike, and he was only 19,” Diamond says in Vanity Fair. “We were still jerks a little bit. We showed up to do this magazine photo shoot, and they sent us this kid. ‘How dare they send a kid to shoot us!’
“To Spike’s credit, he has this thing where he’s very unflappable,” he continues. “We used to put him through these mini-tests, or mini-quests, of fucking with him. Nothing threw him off. We also had a lot of shared, cultural reference points, coming from punk rock and skater culture. That stuff was so important to us.”
For Jonze and the band, it was paramount that Yauch’s presence be felt in the show. “Mike and Adam talked and I talked about that we wanted Yauch to be on stage with us,” Jonze tells Thrillist. “We just wanted to feel him on stage.” Editors Jeff Buchanan and Zoe Schack combed through hundreds of hours of raw footage from MTV for clips of the late MCA.
”Most of the interviews are the three of them together and a lot of times it’s hard to get a straight answer from them. I don’t know if you guys have noticed that, but I find them very, very difficult,” says Jonze in the Thrillist interview. “But anyways, there was only one, maybe two interviews where it was them separate. It was very exciting when we found that footage, because we didn’t know it existed.”
“There was a lot of stuff that felt like it worked well in the show on stage but then it didn’t translate as well,” he adds in an interview with Complex. “I think also as we went from three and a half hours, we intentionally shot it long and every night was different, they’d improvise a lot. Since we only did four shows, we let it go knowing we could take different pieces from different nights. But also we did hone it down to be tighter in the story and not as many tangents.”
That the original cut of the film ran three and a half hours will come as no surprise to followers of the group’s 30-year career (or readers of the 571-page book), which saw them evolve from punk rock to hip-hop, electronica and jazzy funk, shedding their “drunkest guys at the party” image to become feminists and advocates; Yauch was a Buddhist and a leading voice for Tibetan independence.
Horovitz speaks in Vanity Fair of the self-reflection that informs much of the film: “It wasn’t so much the fashion in the ’80s [we regret], because we looked great. It was mostly the things we were saying and doing during that time that makes me cringe. It’s one thing to look back on mistakes you’ve made, which is important to do so you can move forward. It’s a completely different feeling to do that in front of a massive screen showing me being a f***ing idiot, in front of a thousand people.”