Added on 27-Oct-2006
While remarkably comprehensive with its research on the life--and death--of one of the world's most famous rock stars, "Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story," does little to appease those expecting a pop-culture-filled ride full of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
Instead, for this "untold story," Austrian filmmakers Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher have done an excellent job portraying the real man--born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar--behind the fame and fortune. But if you're looking for a glimpse into the inspirations that led Mercury to compose such Queen favorites as "We Are the Champions," or "Bohemian Rhapsody," you'll have to look elsewhere. This isn't about Queen.
Nearly two hours long, this documentary released in October 2000 was originallThis slow-paced documentary starts off in Zanzibar, a British protectorate until 1963, where narrator Sean Pertwee, in his strong British accent, invites us to come on a journey "through time and culture." He spews out lines such as, "On the fifth of September 1946, Farrokh Bulsara first saw the dazzling light of the world."
The filmmakers even go so far as to re-enact the boy's walk to school.
In 1955, 8-year-old Farrokh was sent on an eight-week boat journey to India, where he attended the St. Peter's School in Panchgani, near Mumbai. In a sappy sequence, the narrator attempts to guess what Farrokh was thinking while on the train ride from Mumbai to Panchgani.
Despite the cheesiness of some of the narrator's spiel, from a journalistic standpoint, writer Simon Witter, a long-time rock journalist, succeeded in tracking down nearly everyone who was significant in Mercury's life.
There are some excellent quotes from his mother and younger sister and a revealing interview with Mary Austin, Mercury's long-time girlfriend and common-law wife. He was open with her about being gay.
We even have the privilege of meeting Gita, who was supposedly Mercury's first elementary-school crush.
A bit of comedy ensues when the principal of St. Peter's School is interviewed and noisy goats run by.
The real excitement, however, begins when Mercury's family moves to Feltham, England, in 1964.
Mercury enrolls in Isleworth Polytechnic and then switches to Ealing Art College, where he studies graphic illustration and fashion design. Fans will enjoy seeing some of Mercury's original artworks.
It was around this time that Mercury met Tim Staffel, the lead singer of a band called Smile, which would eventually become Queen. When Staffel stepped down, Freddie took over.
"I'm glad I got out of the way or the world wouldn't have had Queen," Staffel says.
And the rest is rock 'n' roll history.
The film also touches on Mercury's fascination with opera. There's an emotional re-enactment of the time Mercury met opera diva Montserrat Caballe; later they recorded the duet "Barcelona."
This is definitely a biopic created for fans. Those less than familiar with Mercury's work will probably be lost or bored. While there is plenty of classic footage of Mercury onstage and some great archive interviews with Mercury himself, for the most part, the story of Mercury's life is told through his close friends and family.
By no means is this documentary gaudy or superficial. The filmmakers went out of their way to pay tribute to Mercury. And the fans will be proud.(IHT/Asahi: October 27,2006)