MovieMonday: Bohemian Rhapsody

This is a perfectly enjoyable movie about Queen, the stadium/anthem band of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it pulls a bunch of punches on its way to wrapping the story into a neat, coherent package.

If you want to know how the script rearranges timelines, adds fake conflicts and ignores unappealing facts to stitch together a not particularly truthy biopic, this Rolling Stone story has the details.

That said, there is much to like, most notably Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury, Queen’s charismatic and complex lead singer.  We meet him as Farrokh Bulsara, a Parsi baggage handler at Heathrow Airport who talks his way into fronting a band he admires.  Minutes later, he has changed the band’s name and his own, and the group are writing and performing many still-familiar rock classics.  

Gwilym Lee also does a nice job as Brian May, the band’s cool and very capable lead guitarist; his steadiness contrasts with Mercury’s moods and sinuous stage antics.  (The real Brian May is reported to have shaped much of the movie’s plot, which soft-pedals Mercury’s gayness and drug use, which were central to his public and private identities.  Mercury died of AIDs in 1991.) 

There are nice scenes of Queen composing songs, and also many fragments of performances.  These will appeal to Queen fans who grew up with the music and now are middle-aged, the audience demographic in the screening I saw.  Their enthusiasm, stoked by a monthslong promotion campaign, gave the film a remarkable $50 million opening weekend in the U.S.  

Here are the songs most prominent in the movie:  “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If you have fond memories of these, by all means go.

Context

Queen’s performing career ended in 1986.  The movie’s opening and final scenes focus on the enormous 1985 LiveAid concert in London’s Wembley Stadium.  

The band’s cultivation of crowd involvement — clapping, stamping, singing along, echoing Mercury’s phrases, etc. — prefigure the current situation, in which musicians make most of their money from performances and not from sales of recordings.

Last summer, Kenny Chesney attracted an audience of almost 59,000 to Met Life Stadium, the New Jersey home of football’s Jets and Giants.  Over the course of the six-show stand, total attendance approached 390,000 in a region not typically associated with country music.  It’s clear that being part of large concert events is central to the appeal.  

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