The musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody came out in movie theatres this year. We’ve seen music biographies before. The big question is does this film simply chronicle Freddy Mercury’s life? Or does it do much more?
The film begins just as Queen is about to step to the stage to perform in the 1985 Live Aid Concert. The film then flashes back to 1970 when Smile is an English band consisting of Brian May, Roger Taylor and singer Tim Staffell. Faroukh ‘Freddie’ Bulsara is a Farsi immigrant who studies and also works as a baggage handler at Heathrow airport. Freddie faces a lot of discrimination for the color of his skin and mockery because of his hyperdontia which makes him look like he has a mega-overbite. However Freddie does lose himself in rock and roll.
One night, Staffell quits Smile in disappointment. Freddie was there attending the show. When he sees what happened, he asks to join the band. The band gets a rocky start as they play at small college gigs, but it looks promising and Freddie fully believes in them all. The rock singer gig does not go well with his family who feels he should earn his living more ‘honestly.’ Freddie also wins the attraction of college student Mary Austin during a clothes shopping trip. They start dating and romancing.
Over time, Queen gets bigger and they soon have to record an EP. It will cost a lot of money and Freddie agrees to sell the van for money. The EP is a success and it attracts major music producers including one from EMI Records interested in the band. The band changes their name to Queen and Freddie even legally changes his name to Freddie Mercury. The band is acquired by John Reid, Elton John’s manager, and assistant manager Paul Prenter. They bring the band to a gig on BBC’s Top Of The Pops where the band lip syncs Killer Queen. As success grows, including success in the US, Mary and Freddie get engaged. However soon after Freddie learns of his bisexuality.
The band try to record their album A Night At The Opera and the song Bohemian Rhapsody, but the song is too long and hard to perform. On top of that, producer Ray Foster is antagonistic on the band for both the song and the music for the whole album. After Foster refuses it as a single, Freddie gets a local DJ to play Bohemian Rhapsody. The song opens to a lot of negative reviews, but also scores big on the charts worldwide. However Freddie starts an affair with Prenter and has to call off the engagement with Mary. Mary is devastated, but agrees to remain friends.
In the film, the band has continued success in the early 1980’s with We Will Rock You. However the band experience tension both by Freddie’s lavish partying lifestyle and the increasing controlling ways of Prenter. Freddie even cheats on Paul with a waiter, but the waiter tells Freddie to find him after he finds himself. The friction between Freddie and the band grows to the point Freddie leaves the band to record a solo album upon the direction of Prenter. However it becomes obvious how much Prenter wants a piece of the action and Freddie both breaks up with him and fires him.
Soon Freddie learns he has HIV right when the devastating AIDS epidemic was at its most troubling times. He returns to the band confessing it was wrong for them to leave. They’re offered an appearance at the 1985 Live Aid Concert which will be broadcast worldwide to raise money for food supplies during the famine in Africa. This will be the band’s comeback concert, but it will take a lot of effort to bring the band back to their level of performance.
Just before the concert, Freddie confronts his parents to make peace with them. Freddie is also supported backstage by a pregnant Mary along with her husband David. Bob Geldof is hoping for a lot of call-in donations through this concert. Then Queen get on stage and it’s like they never missed a step. The crowd is blown away, television crowds are dazzled, and the donations accelerate like nobody’s business. Queen was back and alive!
There have been musical biographies in films done many times before. In order to make a winning story about a musician, the film will definitely have to include the music. That’s what made the musician great. The film will also have to include key events of the person’s life: the artistic moments, the triumphant moments and the struggles, even any tragedies. It’s all a matter of deciding the right moments for the right beginning, middle and end of the film.
The film does a smart move in making the Live Aid Concert the pivotal moment for Freddie Mercury both as the scene where the movie starts before flashing back in time and ultimately ending. The film also does a good job in picking out moments such as when Freddie joins the band Smile, changes it to Queen, first hits it big with Killer Queen releases their iconic Bohemian Rhapsody, faces friction as well as declining fame in the early 80’s, Freddie’s HIV diagnosis, and their return to winning the public at Live Aid.
However the film also risks disappointing a lot of Queen fans because of how inaccurate the story is. Despite Jim ‘Miami’ Beach being the film’s co-producer and May and Taylor being music consultants, The five biggest inaccuracies Queen fans are most likely to notice are, firstly, Freddie was actually introduced to Brian May and Roger Taylor of Smile by singer Tim Staffell when Staffell wanted to pursue further studies. Secondly, We Will Rock You was written and recorded in the late-70’s rather than the early-80’s. Thirdly, John Deacon was actually Queen’s fourth bassist rather than the original bassist. Fourthly, Queen never split up nor did they get back together at Live Aid. Freddie may have had solo work — the most famous being Barcelona: the duet with Montserrat Caballet — but Roger Taylor also had a solo album too. Fifthly, Freddie learned he was HIV-positive in 1987: after Live Aid. Those that know the true Queen story will know that a lot of these moments in the film were mostly common music-movie cliches rather than the truth about Queen.
Despite failing a lot of Queen fans with some of the inaccuracies and cliches, the film does succeed in a lot of ways and even presents some truths even Queen fans knew. Freddie did credit his extra teeth for his singing, he adored his cats, he held outlandish parties, the song Bohemian Rhapsody was considered too long and too ridiculous at first, Freddie did keep his ordeal with HIV and AIDS private as he did not want to be an object of pity, and finally his friendship with Mary Austin lasted until his death and she did live next door to him even while married to David. The film does stick to the truth in a lot of areas, including that of how Paul Prenter was a controlling person in Freddie’s life. However another added quality is that the film does an excellent job of capturing the essence and feel of Queen’s music. Those that haven’t heard much of Queen’s music will experience songs they never heard before. Those that are fans of the band will fall in love with the songs again. Also those that want to be rock musicians themselves will be inspired to pursue their dreams after watching the film. You not only hear the music, but you can also get the feel of a rock performer too.
The film has already grossed $844.4 million worldwide at press-time with $210.6 million coming from North America. However the film has also faced a ton of heat during the awards season. The cause for all of this was for director Bryan Singer. As you know, Singer has faced criminal charges of being a sex offender. How it happened that Dexter Fletcher stepped into directing the remainder of the film upon the departure of Bryan Singer is that Singer was fired after having violent clashes with Rami Malek. Singer, and not Fletcher, was credited as the film’s director. The awards season has seen the film win many accolades which many have voiced their displeasure about. Possibly due to hostility during the #MeToo movement, many are speaking their mind as if they’re saying a win for Bohemian Rhapsody is a win for a sex offender. I personally feel that Fletcher should have been credited as director. However despite the fact that Singer was fired, people are still unhappy. Makes you wonder what will satisfy them all? Denying the film a release and trashing it altogether? This is a reflection on how toxic and bullying the free speech of social media can be.
Anthony McCarten in cooperation with Peter Morgan may have written a story that was more cliched than truth, but it did capture a lot of the essence of Queen and a lot of the essence of Freddie Mercury. As for the ending, I can understand why they went for the heavy drama by ending with the Live Aid Concert. I’d rather they went with the moment Freddie records The Show Must Go On. Those who know the story behind that will recognize it as one of the biggest triumphs of Mercury’s career and a testament of his mental toughness.
The film also captured the essence of Brian, John and Roger well too. Co-director Dexter Fletcher did a very good job of picking up where Singer left off and creates an exciting experience for the audience. However the biggest triumph is the performance of Rami Malek. Until Bohemian Rhapsody, he was facing the common difficulty of actors of Middle Eastern descent with limited opportunities. It almost seemed like the biggest thing he would ever be known for is playing the Pharaoh in the Night At The Museum movies. This also was not an easy task because Malek was not originally a fan of Queen. However that all changed when he was given the role. Malek was excellent in his performance and will blow away anyone who sees this film.
The actors portraying Brian, Roger and John — Gwilym Lee, Ben hardy and Joseph Mazzello, respectively — also added to the film. Lucy Boynton was also excellent as the friend Mary Austin. Even minor performances like Tom Hollander as Jim Beach, Mike Myers as Ray Foster, and Allen Leech as Paul Prenter did very well with the roles they were given. Julian Day did a very good job with the costuming, Aaron Haye did an excellent job with the set design, and the producers did a very good job in choosing the right songs for the film.
Bohemian Rhapsody has some noticeable errors in the film. However the film succeeds in capturing the spirit of Freddie Mercury, capturing the music of Queen and capturing the experience of a rock star. No wonder it dazzles those that see it.
DISCLAIMER: I admit this review is one month old since I saw it back in June. However as you noticed, I’ve been very active in World Cup blogging and I’ve been taking a break from movie reviewing. I’m back to reviewing movies but there’s still one or tow World Cup blogs yet to come.
Who is Shep Gordon? Even I didn’t know until I saw the documentary. Nevertheless I decided to give Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon a try after someone gave me passes. Wikipedia lists Shep as a talent manager, Hollywood film agent and producer. The film however presents a more closer look at what he’s done and the life he’s had.
Shep may have a degree in Sociology from back in 1968 but as far as talent and entertainment go, he was the right person at the right time. He was around with some of the biggest names of the late 1960’s. However it was his work as a promoter with Alice Cooper that things really got off the ground. The ‘chicken incident’ of 1969 was what kicked Alice’s fame off but it was Shep who brought the chicken there. Did he know Alice would throw it off?
The thing is Shep always had a way of picking them. His next promotion was Anne Murray once Alice started an alcohol problem. It was unusual for Shep to go from promoting a shock rocker to an innocent Canadian country girl but she worked out too. He also knew of next waves on music as he helped promote Blondie into the limelight. He also helped promote soul singer Luther Vandross to R&B success and even helped him cross over to pop successfully.Interesting how he was able to promote so many musicians from so many genres to stardom.
Another aspect of Shep’s success was not just about his success in music. He also had a hand in working on some of the more critically renowned films. He helped produce The Duellists which was director Ridley Scott’s first feature length film and that catapulted Scott’s directing career that included three Best Director Oscar nominations. Another film he helped produce, the Brazilian-American production Kiss Of The Spider Woman, helped William Hurt win the Oscar for Best Actor and was nominated for Oscars in three more categories. Gordon also created Alive Productions, the first independent film production company in the U.S. He’s also helped on some popcorn movies too like Wayne’s World which is where Mike Myers who directs this documentary first met Shep. In addition to movies and music, he also helped catapult the wave of cooking celebrities in the past couple of decades including Emeril Lagasse with his company Alive Culinary Resources. It seemed like he not only knew how to pick winners but how to make them winners. He could rank up there with the likes of Saul Zaentz or David Geffen.
The interesting thing of this documentary of Shep is that it’s not all about entertainment. It’s also personal too, especially coming from a man who saw a lot of people either damage themselves over success or even destroy themselves. Shep also was known for being quite the debaucherous one. In fact he had a lot of involvement with a lot of showbiz debauchery back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, back when debauchery was possibly the most shameless. However Shep does have a spiritual side. Born Jewish, he devoted himself to Buddhism in the past few decades and has even been a private guest of the Dalai Lama. Another aspect the documentary showcases is that despite his hand in debauchery, and boy was it legendary to those who knew him, he has had a deep desire to be a family man and father a child of his own. He shows that he has it in him to be a father when a female he worked with died young and willingly fathered her children to adulthood. His desire to be a father also had a lot to do with why his two marriages didn’t last long: conflicting feelings with the wife. The film ends with him speaking his desire to be a father of his own.
One thing about this documentary is that it portrays many sides to Shep. One minute he’s this typical brutal conniving Hollywood bigwig doing whatever it takes to get his acts famous. Another minute, he’s a family man to others. Another minute, he’s out starting the celebrity chef craze. Another minute, he’s being spiritual. It shows Shep’s complexity in a unique manner. We see that and we hear it from those who’ve worked with him and with those whom have had him as part of their life.
Another thing about this documentary is that it does show a lot of sides to Shep but it does not piece the puzzle together or weave together in a straight manner. There are times when I felt the documentary bounced around from Shep being a showbiz exec to being this family man to focusing on his desire to have a child. It didn’t really string together to well and it felt like it shift topics too often. Even seeing at the end how Shep talks about wanting to be a father one day makes me wonder what the whole point of the documentary is. Like what’s the main point? Is it about Shep? About his entertainment pursuits? Or his desire to have a family? It was either too much for a biographical documentary or it was unevenly done. I know this is Myers’ first documentary but he could have been done more organized.
I also confess that I first thought this documentary was more of a mockumentary along the likes of This Is Spinal Tap. There were times I questioned: “Was Shep the one behind the whole Alice Cooper chicken incident?” or “Did Shep really discover them or promote them?”I especially questioned Anne Murray because I thought she was Bruce Allen’s promotion. Later on I learned more so I’m more comfortable with believing what I saw.
Supermensch is an interesting and intriguing documentary about the life, times, successes and even the heart of Shep Gordon. However it was not unevenly organized and didn’t make sense to what the whole point of the documentary was about. Sure it had lots of points, but what was the whole point?