At the end of a movie, when the audience gives a round of applause, that’s as good a short review as you are likely to get. That’s what happened last night, when Susan and I went to see the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Good Stuff

  • The music. Just great.
  • Rami Malek’s performance. Spookily close at times. And his portrayal of Freddie as someone who could have it all, except for happiness, rang true.
  • Mike Myers’ cameo appearance. He can act.
  • The music. Yes, it’s that good, it’s worth mentioning twice.

The Not So Good Stuff

  • The script. It’s a ‘color by numbers’ job, with only a few sparks of originality or insight.
  • The screwed up timelines – in short, the film plays fast and loose with certain key events (such as the timing of Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis) – to create a contrived Disney type package.
  • The film’s treatment of Freddie’s sexuality doesn’t seem right. There is something missing.
  • The rest of the band are cardboard characters. What a wasted opportunity. Of course, the focus should be on Mercury, but the band members deserved better.
  • The cinematography was bland. Visually, what caught the eye was Malek playing the lead role. Nothing else came close.

It’s a testament to Queen’s music that the good stuff drowns out the rest. It’s a feel good movie that tells a tragic story, but at the same time makes you feel positive about the big, bad world outside – especially if you were around to experienced the real life events of Queen, Mercury, and that amazing Live Aid performance.

One ironic point worth mentioning. The film accurately records the bad reviews the critics gave of the single release Bohemian Rhapsody. That echoes the bad reviews the film got! In both cases, the public ignored the critics. (And, boy, were the critics upset.)

Overall, I’d definitely recommend going to see the movie. It’s good entertainment. Not perfect, but good. As for the real Freddie Mercury and Queen story, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Rhapsody in black

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

The Scotsman has a timely piece about the 40th anniversary of one of the most significant pieces of pop music of all time:

Why Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody endures 40 years on

It’s difficult to imagine Queen, one of the biggest-selling, most widely known bands ever, struggling with their career.

But, as drummer Roger Taylor recalls, in 1974, three albums in to their career, the band were broke and having problems with their manager, who wasn’t passing on any of the cash they were making.

“We felt like this was make or break, really,” he says, referring to fourth album A Night At The Opera. “This was a last big shot at it.”

Cue John Reid stepping in. He was Elton John’s manager at the time, and freed them of previous commitments to management and record labels, reassuring them they could do whatever they wanted.

“He said, ‘Go away and make the best record you’ve ever made and I will sort out the money side’,” says guitarist Brian May. “I seem to recall he put us on 30 quid a week instead of 20 – and we were made.”

Of course, there’s a little bit more to it than that. The album they went on to make, named after the Marx Brothers film, was indeed the best album of their career, while one of its songs, Bohemian Rhapsody, changed their lives, and popular music forever.

The song is 40 years old this week, although frontman Freddie Mercury had been working on it for much longer.

It seems like yesterday, I heard it for the first time, and remember seeing the video promotion. Wonderful music, and wonderful memories.

Read the whole piece, here.

Watch and listen to the track, here.

Great turning points in musical history

The current issue (June 2013) of Q magazine, has an interview with my heroes, Sparks. It includes the following snippet of modern musical history:

Question: Is it true that in 1974 you approached Brian May to be your touring guitarist?

Russell Mael: It’s absolutely true. We met with him and it was a period where I assume he wasn’t sure where Queen was headed. I remember something about their American tour having not lived up to their expectations. We met with Brian and proposed he join Sparks and for a short spell it was being bandied about. But he obviously decided to stick with Queen.

Wow. What could have been? What would have been?