Bee Gee Robin Gibb dies at 62

One of the men who brought disco to the mainstream.

Robin Gibb – one third of the seminal disco outfit the Bee Gees – has died of cancer at age 62.

Formed with his late twin brother Maurice and elder brother Barry, the Bee Gees garnered a place in musical history with their distinctive falsetto harmonies and disco classics like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Emotion”. The group has sold upwards of 200 million records, penned hit tracks for artist like Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Yvonne Elliman, and Olivia Newton-John, and seen thousands of others recording version of their music throughout the past four decades. Their soundtrack for the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever defined a moment in musical history and is often credited with turning disco into a global phenomenon.

Today the music industry pays tribute to the man broadcaster Paul Gambaccini called "talented beyond even his own understanding". He went on: "Everyone should be aware that the Bee Gees are second only to Lennon and McCartney as the most successful songwriting unit in British popular music."

A life in music:

22 December 1949 – Born on the Isle of Man to a band leader father and former-singer mother who encourage their sons to perform.

1958 – Robin and his family move to Australia, where he and his brothers adopt the stage-name the Bee Gees (an abbreviation of Brothers Gibb).

1963 – The Bee Gees are signed to Festival Records Australian subsidiary Leedon Records.

1967  – The Bee Gees introduced to the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and are soon signed with Polydor Records. Robert Stigwood calls them “The Most Significant Band of 1967”.

1969 – Robin quits the group amidst difficulties with his brother Barry.

1970 – Robin rejoins the group and The Bee Gees enjoy US success with "Lonely Days" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (later covered by Al Green).

1977 – A turning point in the band’s career: the Bee Gees compose and perform the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, bringing “disco craze” to the mainstream and skyrocketing the band to international success. Tracks such as “Staying Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Night Fever” reach Number 1 in countries worldwide.

1983 – Robin releases a solo album, several more to follow throughout the decades.

1997 – The Bee Gees receive the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

2000 – The Bee Gees receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.

2009 – Robin tops the charts again with the Comic Relief version of "Islands in the Stream", a collaboration with Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon and Tom Jones.

 

(How Deep is Your Love, 1977)

 

(Staying Alive, 1977)

 

(John Travolta dances to "More Than a Woman" in Saturday Night Fever)

 

Robin Gibb (centre) with his brothers and bandmates Barry and Maurice in 1970. (Photo: Getty Images)

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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In Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to absorb the spirit of the whistleblower

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard. It is reassuring that a film in which people are spied can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour captured the precise moment at which Edward Snowden turned whistleblower after quitting his job at the NSA. Is there room for another film on the same subject? Oliver Stone’s fictionalised account, Snowden, would suggest not. In effect, it admits defeat from the get-go by using the making of Citizenfour as a framing device, incorporating flashbacks to show what led Snowden to commit the security breach that exposed the extent of US government surveillance. Cooped up in a Hong Kong hotel room with him as he spills the beans are Poitras (Melissa Leo) and the Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), who put on their best ­listening faces and try to forget that all of the most interesting scenes are happening in other parts of the film.

What Snowden has in its favour is an economical performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt which is mysterious without being aloof, cool but never cold. The actor gets the voice right (it’s a benign rumble) and though he is physically dissimilar to the real Snowden, that need be no barrier to success: look at Anthony Hopkins in Stone’s Nixon. Gordon-Levitt is absorbed by the role like water vanishing into a sponge. When the real Snowden pops up to stare wistfully off into the distance (there’s a lot of that here), it can’t help but be a let-down. People are so bad at playing themselves, don’t you find?

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard, and it is reassuring that a film in which people are spied on through the webcams of dormant laptops can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable. The script, written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, pulls in the opposite direction, allowing every character to deliver a remark of nudging innuendo. When Snowden is discharged from the army after injuring himself, a doctor tells him: “There are plenty of other ways to serve your country.” When he is approved for a job at the CIA, Snowden tells his employer: “You won’t regret this.” What we have here, give or take the strip club scene in which a pole dancer is filmed from an ungallantly low angle, is a more sober Stone than the one who made JFK and Natural Born Killers but he still can’t resist giving us a few deafening blasts of the old irony klaxon.

Though we know by now not to expect subtlety, Stone’s storytelling techniques are still surprisingly crude. When Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), complains that he has become distant, that he doesn’t touch her any more, the viewer is likely to wonder why that point had to be expressed in soap-opera dialogue rather than, say, action or camera angles. After all, the film was more than happy to throw in a superfluous sex scene when their love life was hunky-dory.

But when Stone does make his points visually, the cringe factor is even higher. He used carnivorous imagery in Nixon – a bloody steak stood in for murder – and the new film doesn’t take the vegetarian option either. Snowden is already starting to be alarmed by surveillance tactics when he goes hunting with his boss, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). The pheasants they kill are barbecued in sizzling close-up, providing a buffet of symbolism. Snowden is going to be grilled. His goose is cooked. He’s dead meat.

An early scene showing him establishing contact with Poitras and Greenwald by an exchange of coded phrases (“What time does the restaurant open?” “Noon. But the food is a little spicy”) suggests that Stone intends to have fun with the story’s espionage trappings. The movie falls between two stools, however, lacking either the irreverence of satire or the tautness of a well-tooled thriller. At its most effective moments, it floats free of irony and captures a quaint, tactile innocence. We see Snowden communicating in sign language with an NSA colleague to avoid being eavesdropped on, or sitting in bed with a blanket over him as he taps away at his laptop. He is only hiding his passwords but he looks for all the world like a kid reading comics by torchlight after his mother has said: “Lights out.”

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump