The Beach Boys surf their storied past in new Disney+ documentary

The Beach Boys made pop history with hits such as "Surfin' USA" and "Fun Fun Fun", but their career was characterized by private drama. As a new Disney+ documentary is set to look closer at the band, lead singer Mike Love (picture at the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary) tells us the "real story" is all in the music. Nina Prommer/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
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When the biographical drama "Love & Mercy" about the life of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson hit cinemas in 2014, it ruffled some feathers, particularly those of Beach Boys frontman Mike Love.

Love quipped that Disney should have made the film, calling it a fairy tale. Fast forward 10 years and irony has had the last laugh. The 83-year-old, along with Wilson and other band members, collaborated on a documentary film about the Beach Boys. It was produced by Disney.

Titled "The Beach Boys," the film debuts on the Disney+ streaming service on May 24.

It promises to be a vibrant celebration of the legendary band, delving into their rich musical history. But don’t expect a sugar-coated fairy tale.

The documentary doesn’t shy away from the band's rough patches — after all, their journey wasn't all "Good Vibrations."

A musical family saga

"Well, I think there are things that happen with individuals and through life's choices that weren't so great," admits Mike Love in an interview with dpa in London.

"But that would be losing sight of the real story of the Beach Boys [which] is the body of work that we've done, the body of songs and the beauty of the songs and the energy of some of them. So I think that's the real story."

This story began in the family home of brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson in Hawthorne, California.

With their cousin Mike and friends, the group first specialized in vocal harmonies before pioneering the Californian sound with surf-centric hits (although only Dennis surfed).

Singles such as "Surfin' Safari" or "Surfin' USA" were followed by increasingly sophisticated compositions by the introverted musical genius Brian Wilson: "Good Vibrations," "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "God Only Knows." The lyrics were mostly penned by Love.

Voices from the past and present

The documentary features interviews with key figures: lead singer Love, who now holds the rights to the band's name, and Bruce Johnston (81), with whom he still gives concerts today as "The Beach Boys," Brian Wilson (81), other former band members as well as several others.

His brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson, who died young, and even his parents can be heard in archival footage. Music stars such as Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac and singer Janelle Monáe also share their perspectives.

In contrast to the Beach Boys' vocal harmonies, internal tensions grew with their success. Murry Wilson, himself a musician and the father of Brian, Carl and Dennis, was originally their manager but increasingly became a burden due to his authoritarian style.

The film includes an audio recording of a studio discussion between Brian and his inebriated father. Brian, who struggled with mental health issues and felt concert appearances to be a burden, eventually focused on studio work, leaving the touring to his bandmates.

However, the social and musical climate changed drastically towards the end of the 1960s. The Beach Boys were suddenly out of fashion. Adding to their woes, Murry Wilson sold the song rights without consulting the band - a decision that had long-term repercussions.

Disputes and court cases

"That happened 60 years ago," Love says today. "You go through things in life and there's ups and downs, and sometimes there [are] contentions, sometimes there’s difference of opinion that lead to actual arguments," he says.

"But still, the essential core of the [Beach Boys] is the harmonies and the love of music and family."

That's putting it mildly. Love sued his cousin Wilson several times, sometimes successfully. But presumably nobody felt like a winner.

Despite these conflicts, the band members got together again for their 50th anniversary tour in 2012. But there was no longer any friendship.

The film captures an emotional moment where the typically extroverted Love fights back tears when discussing the broken relationship with his cousin.

"[That] was a really emotional moment and heartfelt," director Marshall explains in the dpa interview. "Mike ... remembered how much he loved Brian and how they worked together."

Marshall is a Hollywood heavyweight and is known as the producer of the "Indiana Jones" series and countless classic films.

Most recently, the 77-year-old made several music documentaries, including the very personal film "The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart".

Emotional reunion in front of the camera

As a teenager, Marshall had played instrumental surf music and admired the Beach Boys.

He explains: "And I thought, well, why was their band successful and my band not? And it was they were much more talented and they had lyrics for their songs. That was my conclusion."

The Hollywood veteran managed to reunite all the living Beach Boys in front of the camera - at the beach where the cover photo of their debut album was taken.

"It was like a family reunion. They laughed, they cried, they told stories, they sang together. It was an amazing moment. And I think everything just goes away. And they enjoyed each other's company and being together."

Whether the reunion has truly mended old rifts remains uncertain.

"I don't know if it brought us closer together, but we were plenty close in the recording studio," says Love, who found the brief reunion "particularly nice."

"I don't think there is an ending to the story," says Bruce Johnston who barely gets a word in edgewise with Love during the dpa interview.

"You know why? Because the music's [...] just going to keep going. So there you go."

The Beach Boys Mike Love (left) and Bruce Johnston (right) stand with director Frank Marshall (centre) in the Abbey Road Studios for a screening of thr documentary film "The Beach Boys". Philip Dethlefs/dpa
The Beach Boys Mike Love (left) and Bruce Johnston (right) stand with director Frank Marshall (centre) in the Abbey Road Studios for a screening of thr documentary film "The Beach Boys". Philip Dethlefs/dpa