Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born
Bohemian Rhapsody (biopic)
“I decide who I am. I’m going to be what I was born to be: a performer, who gives the people what they want. A touch of the heavens, Freddie f***ing Mercury.”
On Freddie’s brilliance:
His edgy nature pushed him to excellence, never allowing himself to settle for the norm or mediocrity - he was always striving to do something novel (new songs, new records, new arrangement and variation to tracks including incorporating the operatic and recording a never-before-up-till-then-done 6 minutes track in Bohemian Rhapsody - radio tracks in the 1970s were usually 3 minutes long and never double that).
His progressive nature attracted people to him and he was a natural leader (the way the one woman he truly loved to his death, Mary Austin was enchanted by him, the way his band trusted his leadership, the way his band manager and lawyer trusted him to lead the way despite the investor’s objection and disagreement with Freddie’s cutting-edge views on the future of music and what sells records).
He wasn’t merely the lead singer of Queen - he led the band to avant-garde music, progressive tracks and sold-out concert performances which utterly captured its audience.
He was absolutely comfortable in his own skin - when he was on stage performing, he was utterly in his element. When he was in his element, he shone and touched lives (the way he shut off everything else when he was on stage, performing solely for his audience, the way his closest friends gazed at him and watched him perform, including Mary Austin and Jim Hutton, and his fans who were so enraptured by his dazzling splendor they would cry mid-concert).
On Freddie’s expectation of loyalty:
He expected loyalty from the people closest and dearest to him - from Mary Austin for instance, when he confessed his bisexuality and their romantic relationship ended, and she eventually met another man, David, with whom she had a baby, Freddie asked her, how could you? It puzzled Mary Austin how Freddie could demand loyalty from her when it was him who betrayed their relationship. But to a befuddled Freddie, he didn’t realize it was his wrongdoing which broke up the relationship and he didn’t have a right to expect her undivided loyalty to him, yet unreasonably he did, because to him, although he might be physically and sexually involved with other people, he had always considered Mary Austin to be his one true love and friend.
Freddie once said: "All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage."
“We believe in each other. That’s enough for me. I couldn’t fall in love with a man the same way as I have with Mary.”
On Freddie’s loneliness:
Despite his fame and flamboyance, Freddie was lonely and “just a boy in need of constant company and friends”, as his short reigning manager and friend Paul Prenter described him to the press in the movie shortly after Freddie fired Paul for not telling about Queen’s invitation to perform at the Live Aid Concert in 1985.
Freddie claimed the Queens to be his family, but he acknowledged that they’re not really family because they have families of their own where they have wives, children, girlfriends, where as he (Freddie) had nothing - Mary Austin left him, Freddie would have flings with men but no one sturdy and reliable he could count on, until he found Irish-born Jim Hutton, who would remain by his side and nursed him through his final years battling with Aids before Freddie died in 1991.
Freddie had always been open with his struggle with loneliness, and he was quoted:
"You can be in a crowded area and still be the loneliest person, because you don't really belong to anyone.”
“I don't have any real friends. I don't think I do. I discard them. People tell me they're friends, but there we are. I don't believe them.”
“Over the years I have become bitter and I don't trust anybody because they've let me down so many times."
“Because audiences love me, it’s hard for them to believe that somebody like Freddie Mercury could be lonely. In fact, my kind of loneliness is the hardest. You can be in a crowd and still be the loneliest person, because you don’t really belong to anyone.”
On Freddie’s roots:
Freddie Mercury was Britain’s first Indian rock star. This fact and the nature of his sexuality were the two areas of his short life about which he would be intentionally obscure. Although he was born on the East African island of Zanzibar on September 5, 1946, his parents were both Indian; they were Parsis from Gujarat.
As an artist myself, I am highly encouraged by my biggest takeaway from the film - that masterpieces require massive belief in vision, sheer work, determination, though often times, deeply cutting isolation and loneliness.
A Star Is Born (fiction)
I saw Lady Gaga on screen for the first time when I was vacationing in Portugal earlier this year and my husband stumbled upon a full length documentary centered around her life and music career titled Five Foot Two (yes, that’s her height, which is pretty petite for an Italian girl from New York) produced in 2017 exclusively for Netflix.
Now seeing her for the second time in A Star Is Born, I feel like I’m getting to know her on a whole other level as the movie provided a fictionalized look into the life, making of and stardom of a female singer, Ally (played by Lady Gaga) discovered and encouraged by a popular and celebrated male country music singer, Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper).
Though this movie is a fourth and 2018 remake of the original 1937 movie with the same name (the second remake was in 1954, the third in 1976), many viewers and critics would agree this third remake is the best by far. I haven’t watched the first three makes, and neither do I want to, so I’ll speak based on my takeaway from this recent 2018 remake.
Outstanding performance by both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Cooper is convincing as a singer - he looked, performed and sang the part (yes, he sang the songs in the movie, and they were recorded live, not taped) and Gaga, the performer that she is and more comfortable in her own skin on stage than any other female performers of her generation, shakes the audience with her soul-deep vocals and a strong narrative that you almost want to believe is true of her own life story.
I found myself utterly enraptured by the entire story plot from when Jackson stumbled upon Ally performing in a drag bar to their kindred spirits in music and Jackson providing Ally with a sold-out concert stage to perform alongside him, and the development of their love and support for each other, through to the decline of Jackson’s plunge into alcoholism and eventual self destruction.
I’d like to believe that Hollywood celebrity tale could be this loving, but I’m hard pressed to believe so - how could Jackson love Ally so faithfully and steadfastly despite his alcoholism? Half the time in the movie I was expecting him to either sleep with other women who would have thrown themselves at him given his fame and wealth, but no it didn’t happen. And when that didn’t happen, I was expecting him to not be as loving, attentive and kind to Ally as he did in the initial phase of their courtship, but he remained as sweet and loving as he did towards the end of his life as he did when he first met her at a drag bar.
And when Ally’s fame overtook his with huge record deals and touring possibilities, I was expecting Jackson to be envious and sabotage her success with his deflated ego, but no, that didn’t happen either, though he did embarrass her on stage as she received a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in his drunken stupor.
I left the cinema recharged and re-inspired to work hard in my craft as an artist. In fact, I love this movie so much so I have several of the songs (all originally composed for this 2018 remake) accompany me each time I write, my favorite being Shallow.