WHERE were you in 1975?
Well, I had just graduated from El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, California.
Every morning I listened to rock music blaring out from my battery-powered, AM transistor radio as I splashed on my BRUT after shave and pulled up my powder-blue bell bottom pants.
It was a heady time in the diverse world of rock ‘n roll and if you are into rock music as I am, nothing was better to start the day with than the music of Queen and its first smash hit single, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
And here I am, decades later, reviewing a movie about Queen.
Ain’t life grand?
For you rock music aficionados out there, you too will love this bio flick, aptly named “Bohemian Rhapsody” as we jump into the way-back machine and zip back to the mid-1970s and newborn days of Queen.
Just to make sure I get this right, here’s the official background from Wikipedia: “Queen are a British rock band that formed in London in 1970. Their classic line-up was Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (lead guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals), and John Deacon (bass guitar). Queen’s earliest works were influenced by progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal, but the band gradually ventured into more conventional and radio-friendly works by incorporating further styles, such as arena rock and pop rock, into their music.”
With that said, Queen, at its start, was a running joke in the United Kingdom media as they were tagged as a bunch of misphits and rock “wanna bees” that went from one record producer to another … getting the proverbial door slammed on their face.
Mercury joined the band after its formation in 1970 and it is not only his gritty musical lyrics but enormous stage presence that straps the movie audience in for a trip out of this world.
Too say that in its early days that Queen had a tough time of it would be a complete understatement and “Bohemian Rhapsody” shares every solitary desperate moment of creativity falling on deft ears.
Like Christian missionaries who constantly have doors slammed in their faces, so too did the music promoters of the day reject everything that came from Freddie Mercury and Queen.
In “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the seldom-seen Mike Myers (“The Love Guru”) plays the fictional Ray Foster, based on the
real-life Roy Featherstone who was instrumental in pushing and pushing and pushing Queen’s music on radio stations across the U.K.
The rest is history.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is presented by director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) who knows exactly how to present larger-than-life characters that are a bit strange and off center. Rami Malek (“The Master”) is perfectly cast as the over-biting and over-the-top Freddie Mercury who has numerous music clashes with his fellow band members.
Malek is completely “out of body” in this role, setting the silver screen ablaze when his screen alter-ego Mercury blasts onto the London music scene.
You should know that in these heady days flamboyant rock groups were becoming the norm.
In 1973, KISS were already taking form in New York City as Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley with face paint and stage outfits.
Just like Queen, KISS shot into the music scene on a rocket with elaborate live performances, featuring (again from Wikipedia) “fire breathing, blood-spitting, smoking guitars, shooting rockets, levitating drum kits, and pyrotechnics.”
Although Queen did not have any of that silly stuff, they had one better in Freddie Mercury, his lyrics and incredibly powerful stage presence.
Of course in this bio-pic, moviegers will be clamoring for every shred of Mercury’s dual lifestyle with his paramour Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) until he fully comes “out of the closet” and embraces his sexual orientation–just as the music of Queen was staggering the mind and shattering the musical soul of the world.
The music of Queen dwarfed anything from KISS or any of their contemporaries of the day (including the Beatles) from “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Killer Queen,” “Someone to Love” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” as the hits just keep on coming.
The music of this movie alone is well worth the price of admission.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” culminates with the live stage performance of the ages when Queen and a jet-fueled Malek (i.e. Freddie Mercury) takes the stage at London’s Wembley Stadium at Live Aid 1985 in front of 75,000 fans and a global TV audience.
It’s a stretch to think of Malek really performing in front of a green screen with the mass audience actually placed there by a computer.
This film duplicate of that sultry July 13th London evening when Queen took the stage at 6:41 p.m. is a moment in time seamlessly presented by Singer and his techno wizards.
The effect on screen is pure energy and the reason IMAX wide screen theaters were created.
Big kudos to film editor John Ottman and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel for their amazing work on this brilliant film!
As I write this review, I’m watching the video of Queen’s Live Aid performance which has more than 59.8 million views–and it’s at the 2:56 moment of Queen’s live set when Freddie Mercury struts along the London stage and propels himself into every TV set in the world (and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) with his command of the crowd when belting out “Radio Ga Ga.”
Truly, Freddie Mercury’s control of a live audience will never be repeated in this writer’s lifetime, except when Malek likewise struts across the soundstage to mimic this incredible moment in rock and roll history.
It is not just the stage presence that Malek/Mercury presents but the incredible power of self-confidence … and that is when “Bohemian Rhapsody” delivers on all cylinders.
As a three-time Summer Olympic Sportscaster for CBS Radio in New York City, this writer can testify that when it comes to performing and you know at that singular moment in time that you are the best in the world–it is a complete “out of body” experience.
Nothing in the world comes even close to the adrenaline rush of knowing millions of people are listening to your every word.
Malek synthesizes and presents the highest level of confidence and the direction from Singer is superb.
Freddie Mercury died in 1991 from complications relating to AIDS and one year later in April 1992, Queen again took to the Wembley Stadium stage, along with the late George Michael who crushes “Someone to Love”—a fitting tribute to an incredible performer who is now frozen forever in time with this film presentation of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
God bless you … and rest in peace, Freddie Mercury.
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