Posted in: Disc Reviews by Michael Durr on October 17th, 2012
Some bands stand the test of time. Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bon Jovi, Village People, errrr, okay let’s continue. Another of those bands is Queen who some experts have estimated that the band has sold over two hundred million records. Their most famous lead singer is of course the legendary Freddie Mercury. But Freddie Mercury was such a unique personality that he was not always interested in making music with Queen. He had many other interests and this documentary we have today explores them.
At the Rio festival in January of 1985, Freddie Mercury decided to perform in front of 350,000 people in a pink sweater and fake breasts. The next day, he is interviewing with David Wigg in suspenders and a seemingly normal t-shirt. When asked about whether or not he was intimidated by the size of the crowd he preformed at. He simply smiles and says that bigger is better in everything. The Emperor of Rock has found some new clothes.
But Freddie Mercury was exhausted from singing and performing with Queen, and he needed a break. He wanted to do things on his own, and he of course wanted to find out how much money he could make away from Queen. So he came up with the concept of an album named Mr. Bad Guy. Rod Stewart did some recordings with him. So did Jeff Beck, so did Michael Jackson and his pet Llama. Those latter recordings never showed up until recently. Eventually he signed a huge deal with CBS records.
Freddie has led a storied life from graphics illustrator to a singer at sold out shows. Queen really did all types of music from vaudeville to raw rock and roll to soapy ballads. But Freddie was very misunderstood. He wanted to do things that interested him, beyond rock and roll. Things like ballet which led him to perform with the Royal Ballet. We then see some clips of Bohemian Rhapsody where he was even singing lyrics completely upside down.
Mercury was certainly part of the 80’s Gay circle in New York. He even lived on East 52nd street. There were bars every night with Donna Summer playing on the loud speakers. Hedonism, drugs and excess were the order of every night. The Queen singer was also into the black persuasion which led to the Hot Stuff album he made with the band. However, things did not start to get bad until he met Paul Prenter.
Paul Prenter showed Freddie what he could do. That included nightclubs and the club scene. Paul was very disruptive to the singer’s creativity and time in the studio. But Prenter gave Freddie what he desired, guys and coke. He was his partner in crime and eventually Freddie even put him on his own payroll. But Freddie’s excesses and Prenter’s influence would eventually be his undoing.
Often it seemed that the more Freddie Mercury opened up, the more he got hurt. It was always a case of the better the mishaps, the better the song. But Freddie was different, he liked the ballet and the opera. He particularly liked the opera with renowned singer Montserrat Caballe. She had the most beautiful soprano voice in the world. Freddie simply wanted to sing with her one day. Back at the recording studio for Mr. Bad Guy, the album just was not going anywhere. Mercury had a huge advance but no fans in sight.
This is an interesting documentary. For one, it’s not really about Queen at all. It’s about Freddie Mercury and his time away from Queen. Specifically, it is about his two main solo projects, Mr. Bad Guy and his Barcelona album with Montserrat Caballe. It also features the single, The Great Pretender which did a great job of showcasing the eclectic side of the great singer. None of these albums really did amazing when it came to actual record sales, but they allowed Freddie to show a creative side he never could with Queen.
The time with Montserrat Caballe is particularly peculiar since it was a very bizarre opera album that really appealed to Freddie’s tastes. It is also a shame that these creative outreach projects came at a time when Mercury was into the insane club scene during Mr. Bad Guy and was suffering from AIDS by the time Barcelona came out. To this day, neither of these projects had any huge success but it was important for fans who enjoyed everything that Freddie did.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen presentation in 1080i resolution. The footage is all over the place with some recent material in the form of present day interviews and lots of archival footage from the seventies and eighties. Most of it looks really good, and people will get a kick of seeing Freddie Mercury at various times in his career. This is a great documentary to watch visually even if the material is rarely Queen based.
For the audio portion, we get a 2.0 PCM track. This is a fairly simple by the numbers documentary but you would not it coming from Eagle Vision. It is loud and there is full of quality volume all over the place. Dialog is delightfully clear and despite the simple stereo track, it does not suffer from any limited range of sound. The music sounds delightful and I wish there was a music only track included. Subtitles are included for English, Spanish, French, and German.
- Freddie Mercury Goes Solo 7:20: This is from the Freddie Mercury interview in 1985 with David Wigg when the solo album was provisionally named “Made in Heaven”. They go over the album and talk about the key tracks.
- Extended Interview with Montserrat Caballe 6:51: It is nice to see Caballe and have her talk so candidly about Freddie as if she just spent time with him yesterday. They talk about the album and how she developed a very special friendship with the late singer.
- Making Barcelona: Special Edition 2012 4:44: Barcelona, the special edition came out this year and is part of the reason this documentary came out. It is four discs with the album with full orchestra accompaniment, a rarities and outtakes disc, another disc with the accompaniment without vocals and finally a dvd with a whole bunch of clips. In this featurette, we meet Stuart Morley who led the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to do the instrumentation.
Freddie Mercury unfortunately left this world on November 24th, 1991 due to bronchopneumonia, a complication associated with AIDS. However, twenty years later, he is still remembered for being one of the greatest performers ever lived. In this very interesting documentary, we learn of Freddie’s solo efforts and what he went through during this time of great tragedy and great creativity. Sure, these albums never sold many copies, but they remain fascinating studies into Mercury’s mind.
The disc is another well done effort from Eagle Vision with more than acceptable video and fantastic audio. The extras are mostly fluff but true fans of Freddie and even Queen will watch this documentary with much appreciation and seek out the two albums if they do not already own them. I give this a recommendation but it is mostly for the fans and not so much for general rock enthusiasts. It is a niche documentary but fans who take the time to watch will see a very fascinating production. Enjoy.