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Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie, may not be good but it doesn’t matter

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 26, 2018

I cannot wait to see the new Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s out in wide release on November 2 after a long time in the making (Sacha Baron Cohen was attached for six years before dropping out in 2013 over a dispute with the remaining band members). I still think SBC would have made a great Freddie Mercury, and it sounds like some, ahem, colorful details may not have made it into the film. Per NME:

There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury,” he explained. “The guy was wild. There are stories of little people with plates of cocaine on their heads walking around a party.” However, Baron Cohen learned that these stories would not make the film. “They wanted to protect their legacy as a band.”

Queen was so revered in my household growing up that my father bought me and my siblings each authentic sixpence for when we see the movie together over Thanksgiving. Apparently Brian May considers guitar picks too flexible and uses a vintage sixpence coin instead (they’ve been out of circulation since 1980). I’m hoping the mixed reviews are ignored so that it’s still in the theater after three weeks. Full disclosure: I’ve broken the cardinal blogging rule and not fully read these reviews before posting so I don’t spoil the movie for myself since I MUST SEE IT.

In anticipation of the film’s release, you may want to read this Rolling Stone feature on Queen, which gives significant backstory about Freddie Mercury and the band.

In Queen’s early years, a legend persisted that the band had spent a year or two mapping out the stratagems of its success before anybody ever heard the music. (Deacon once boasted to friends that the group had a “10-year plan.”) For the music press, this sort of ambition showed guile rather than any true passion for the meaning or social possibilities of music. It was an image that Queen didn’t escape for most of their career. In truth, Queen’s rise was beset by questionable business deals and serious health problems (at one point May almost lost an arm to gangrene, and was later hospitalized with hepatitis, then an ulcer). But for Mercury, there was no fallback. May, Taylor and Deacon could all resort to their original academic-bred careers: May kept working toward his Ph.D. thesis in astrophysics in the band’s early years, and Deacon later admitted that he wasn’t convinced Queen were truly viable until after their third LP. Mercury eventually persuaded the band that it was worth abjuring any other careers. “If we were going to abandon all the qualifications we had got in other fields to take the plunge into rock,” May later said, “we weren’t prepared to settle for second-best.”

Settle they did not, by any stretch. Freddie Mercury burned bright and died way too young, at 45.

People had trouble with how Mercury lived and with how he died. There were homophobes who saw his deterioration as a punishment for his sexuality and promiscuity. Others, who had done work combating AIDS, faulted him for not acknowledging his condition until the end. Those judgments will always follow Mercury, but if his music is any key at all, there was an almost prayerful quality about his failings. In song after song he sang about mortality, solitary desolation and hopefulness, but he also implored some unattainable sanctuary — nowhere so openly as in “Save Me,” from The Game: “I have no heart, I’m cold inside/I have no real intent…./Save me/I can’t face this life alone.” But Mercury often felt he had to stay alone, as he had done in his childhood. “It can be a very lonely life,” he said, “but I choose it.” (In the early 1970s, when Austin suggested they have a child together, Mercury allegedly responded, “I’d rather have a cat.”) Instead of domestic refuge, Mercury sought ecstasy and restlessness for most of his life, and obviously that choice incurred a cost. One of his best songs, “Don’t Stop Me Now,” set out his ethos with a starkness that was also blissful: “I’m a rocket ship on my way to Mars/On a collision course/I’m a satellite out of control/I’m a sex machine ready to reload.”

I think we can all agree that Freddie Mercury is a rock god and that Queen’s Live Aid performance is legendary. Please go see the movie when it’s out next week!