The Ending of 'Beastie Boys Story' Explained

Spike Jonze's new "live documentary" concert film features some surprising and peculiar cameos in its final moments.

Beastie Boys Story Photo
Apple

Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old.


Documentaries are not really the sort of movies you expect to need explaining. By nature, they’re often made for the purpose of explaining something. But not all documentaries are meant just for communicating information, and even those that are don’t necessarily need to explain everything explicitly. Take the delightful and hilarious new Spike Jonze feature Beastie Boys Story. The Apple+ original is a concert film capturing the “live documentary” of the same name, which was also helmed by Jonze. For the most part, it’s a self-contained effort sharing the history, as told by surviving members Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, of the Beastie Boys. But after that story is complete and the credits begin to roll, there are some bonus clips that may leave viewers with questions.

No, I’m not referring to the music video for “Intergalactic,” which kicks off the credits. Nor do I mean most of the context-free clips during this mix of footage both old and new. Most of which are self-explanatory (I say most because I’m not familiar with the feud that Dan Cortese is trying to ignite between the Beasties and Mark Wahlberg). Or merely bloopers from the live show. Or simply the guys being goofy in various MTV interviews and promos (no, they didn’t grow up with the guys from Foo Fighters or Sonic Youth since infancy). Or not-too-curious references like the additional nod to Cozy Soup & Burger in a deleted scene (it’s a famous eatery in Greenwich Village on Broadway at Astor). I am referring to the cameo appearances made by Ben Stiller, Steve Buscemi, and David Cross as members of the audience who interrupt the show.

First of all, in case you weren’t aware, Beastie Boys Story was a “two-man one-man show about three kids who started a band together” that took place over four different nights about a year ago. The first date, which I’m pretty sure didn’t contribute to the film, was in Philadelphia. The other three were at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn. Stiller, Buscemi, and Cross played themselves, but they all filled the same role for the show on each of those three nights (I’m unaware if the Philly show had the same component). So, what was up with the bit, and why does it seem like such a random assortment of celebrities that took part in a moment that all but wound up on the cutting room floor?

Well, they’re not exactly that random. Stiller, who previously inadvertently wound up making a cameo in another Beastie Boys concert film, the crowd-sourced collaborative effort Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, is a huge Beasties fan. He’s also made appearances on stage with them at concerts and is an expert at trivia about the group. Plus, Stiller co-starred with Horovitz in the 2014 Noah Baumbach movie While We’re Young. As for Buscemi, who comes off the funniest of the three, he previously took part in the audiobook Beastie Boys Book and played a waiter in the Beastie Boys music video for “Make Some Noise,” which is also part of the Adam Yauch-helmed short Fight For Your Right Revisited. And he can be seen chatting with Horovitz and Diamond in an episode of his old AOL talk show, Park Bench with Steve Buscemi.

Then there’s Cross, who has been a fan of the group since back in 1983 when he first heard “Cooky Puss” on the radio. Of the three guests, the comedian and Arrested Development star had arguably the best connection. Through mutual friends, he met the trio and got to portray the role of “Nathaniel Hornblower,” Yauch’s supposed uncle who is referenced often in Beastie Boys Story without clarification that he never actually existed, on a couple of occasions. Hornblower, of course, was an alter ego of Yauch himself, used as a credit for music videos he directed and sometimes as a ridiculous disguise he would wear, most famously at the 1994 MTV Music Video Awards when he pulled a pre-Kanye disruption when REM rather than the Beastie Boys won for Best Director. Cross took over the role of the lederhosen-garbed Swedish filmmaker in a Yauch-helmed short from 2006 called A Day in the Life of Nathaniel Hornblower, which wound up as a bonus feature on the Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! DVD, as well as in the Fight for Your Right Revisited film.

I will note that the purpose of the interruption during the show appears to have been to express some truth about the album Paul’s Boutique without Horovitz or Diamond needing to brag. Stiller, Buscemi, and Cross get up to remind the two Beastie Boys that despite bombing when released, their 1989 record went on to be hugely popular and influential (many, including myself, believe it to be their best work). The excised bit came as a relief to me, actually, because I was surprised there wasn’t more appreciation given to the legacy of Paul’s Boutique in its moment during the story. I’m still surprised there was no discussion of how careful the group was with sampling during an era when many others were beginning to see lawsuits over the technique.

Anyway, there is one more notable cameo during the end credits footage, and that’s Michael K. Williams. He’s in a sketch with a little kid portraying Diamond. Williams is playing, in case you can’t tell, Bob Dylan. This was a bit that must have been done more than once since a review of the Philly show credits Tim Meadows with playing the folk icon. And it must be a depiction of the time Diamond met Dylan at Dolly Parton’s birthday party in 1988. One review of the first Kings Theater date (April 10, 2019) praises the “element” of the show, but for whatever reason, Jonze mainly kept these kinds of skits out of the film version. Jonah Hill (who is also in Fight For Your Right Revisited and a producer of Beastie Boys Story) reportedly also made an appearance on-stage at the Philly date. Perhaps in the bit that we see Stiller, Buscemi, and Cross doing?

I would be willing to bet that we’ll get to see more of those skits and bits and other deleted or extended moments from the live Beastie Boys Story shows, whether on Apple+ or someday when Oscilloscope Laboratories puts out a Blu-ray release of the movie. I definitely want to see more of the Dylan thing and how it fits into the storytelling, which is otherwise just two guys on stage narrating a bunch of clips projected behind them. Speaking of other ways to see Beastie Boys Story, the documentary was initially supposed to open on IMAX screens in theaters ahead of its streaming debut, but thanks to COVID-19, that was postponed. If you don’t have Apple+ and if, hopefully, that release does happen, I have to recommend seeing it large.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.