So what'cha, what'cha, what'cha want? An Apple TV subscription service was rumored for years, but when Apple TV+ finally arrived, it proved a bit underwhelming. Sure there were big Hollywood names attached, from Steven Spielberg to Oprah Winfrey. But the hits just didn’t come.
Yes, there was a ripple in the lake when people started watching the Jennifer Aniston / Steve Carrell fronted The Morning Show, and our very own Samuel Roberts sang the praises of Mythic Quest. But there’s been nothing of the scale of interest like we’ve seen with Netflix’s Stranger Things or HBO’s Game of Thrones. There’s no sure shot.
But as of this past weekend, Apple can truly claim to have one undeniably golden exclusive to stream on its service, in the shape of the Beastie Boys Story.
Three MCs and one Spike Jonze
Recounting the rise, fall and rise again of one of the most influential rap and hip-hop groups of all time, Beastie Boys Story is a 2-hour cut of footage shot at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre across multiple nights, where remaining Beastie Boys Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz held an ‘Audience With’ style talk.
Part autobiography, part memorial and tribute to the dearly departed Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch (the creative core of the trio, according to Diamond and Horovitz), it’s a whistlestop tour through the band’s history – a hip-hop Ted Talk with the added directorial magic of Spike Jonze (he of Being John Malkovich and the Beastie’s own Sabotage video fame).
With reams of archive footage and Ad-Rock and Mike D trading anecdotes and war wounds, there’s a joviality to proceedings that is too often missing from band biopics. From the goofy hi-jinks of the Licence to Ill era to the appearance of Yauch’s alter-ego Nathanial Hörnblowér, it’s as insightful as it is hilarious.
It avoids the reverential pitfalls of other music retrospectives – Ad-Rock and Mike D having an easy charm on stage, while Spike Jonze playfully teases the pair off camera with off-cue animations projected behind them and looping clips of their less flattering moments. When it does turn reflective it refrains from being preachy, and gives well deserved credit to the influence and strength of character that Adam Yauch offered.
If it lacks anything, it’s in what’s teased in the after-credits cut scenes, where we get glimpses of celebrity audience plants such as Ben Stiller and Steve Buscemi heckling the pair, as well as a sequence where The Wire’s Michael K. Williams plays Bob Dylan, restaging an encounter where the folk singer tried to convince Diamond to play a ‘pro-smoking concert’. Jonze and the Beasties are known for their goofy humour and visual creativity, but lots of that is left to be covered off by the archive footage as opposed to live staging, which could have been fun.
Beastie Boys Story is exactly the sort of thing Apple should be commissioning. Big names, cross-generational interest, trailblazers in the Apple mold, with a throughline back to Apple’s synonymous presence within the music industry via iTunes, iPods, Apple Music and beyond.
And above all, it’s just a great documentary – playful with the format in a way fitting of the Beastie Boys, with a killer soundtrack. Apple TV+ may still have to fight for its right to party with the streaming big boys, but Beastie Boys Story is an intergalactic hit.