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Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

A Night at the Cinema- A Bohemian Rhapsody review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

So right off the bat I just gotta say, this whole movie is very reminiscent of that VH1 Behind the Music series they used to do, but on a larger budget. Also this review is coming a bit later because I had to see it twice to really break it down. By the way if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re a fan of Queen, just go see it because there’s no real point in putting up a spoiler warning. I’m going to talk about the whole film.

There are a couple of things I have to get right out of the way: how the film handled its PG-13 rating and its portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. I am one of the few in camp that think you can make an adult movie with a PG-13, and after seeing the end result I stand by this statement. I also would like to applaud the MPAA for not slapping films with an automatic R just for showing a same sex couple share a kiss; they’ve finally arrived to 2018. While the film doesn’t cover up that Freddie Mercury certainly didn’t live a PG-13 life, it doesn’t feel the need to show all the sex or the drugs. 

As for Freddie’s sexuality, if there’s one scene that really captures the film’s stance it’s where the band is being interviewed and Freddie is clearly on drugs and all the reporters want to know about is his sexuality when in reality the focus should have been on his struggle with the celebrity lifestyle. Some other reviewers have deemed the film “a conservative’s campaign ad against the homosexual agenda.” Politics aside I honestly have no idea what film they were watching. The film doesn’t demonize being gay or even try to point the finger and say he contracted AIDS because he was gay. It takes an almost aseptic approach towards celebrity in general; the constant drugs and the parties and having someone around who isn’t really invested in your well-being is just the perfect destructive combination that has claimed the lives of more than just Mercury.

This is probably a good point to talk about the portrayal of Paul Prenter. For the sake of the film he is the villain and a damn good one.His undermining leads to both the separation of Queen and his drug pushing and enabling guides Freddie Mercury down a destructive path to almost no point of return. In reality Paul Prenter’s relationship with the band played out differently; in the film Mercury fires him for not informing him of Live-Aid,which made for a great cinematic moment. Prenter was believed to have been sexually involved with Freddie Mercury and did threaten him with blackmail as shown in the film but a lot of the rest seems to have been embellished for the sake of the film. Do I think he falls back on an old Hollywood stereotype that depicts Gay men in a bad light? No and I think the film actively tries to avoid that as well. He’s more of a representation of “the wrong crowd” that all kids are told not to hang out with because they’ll get into trouble. In this instance the trouble is cocaine, pill popping with a side of binge drinking.      

So now that we’ve got the hardest parts out of the way let’stalk about the rest of the film. Performance wise I’m very glad that Rami Malek was cast as Freddie versus Sacha Baron Cohen. Not that it wouldn’t have been interesting to see the man who gave us Borat put his spin on Freddie. Evidently Cohen had signed on in 2010 to play the lead role but departed in 2013 due to creative differences with the band as they could not agree on what sort of a film they wanted to make. Cohen wanted to focus on the wilder part of Mercury’s lifestyle and the band really wanted a film about the band and its music. The band also stated in an interview that for the portrayal of Freddie to feel real, the audience had to believe the performer is Freddie and that Cohen’s own sense of theatricality would greatly clash and take away that suspension of disbelief. Malek is really able to sell the character and most critics have agreed no one could have done it better. The fact that the music wasn’t dubbed over and it was actually Queen was something I was unsure of, but really no one can top Mercury’s vocals so another good decision on the part of the filmmakers.

As for the rest of the band, my god if they don’t get hair and makeup awards for transforming those actors into lookalikes of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon I’m going to throw by popcorn at the TV this awards season. Also fun fact, Joseph Mazzello who played John Deacon, was the little kid in the original Jurassic Park.

We of course have to talk about the portrayal of the two major loves of Mercury’s life, Mary Austin and Jim Hutton. Mercury said in a 1985 interview. “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.” He loved her and she was always his best friend which comes across so strongly in the film. The scene where Freddie says he might be bisexual and she says no Freddie you’re gay, according to interviews is more or less how that conversation went down in real life. The film hooks them up in this sort of a meet cute moment when in reality it was Brian May who introduced them. It also omits the aftermath of their separation where she had asked him to have a child with her and he refused (but said he wouldn’t mind getting another cat). But there’s only so much ground one can cover in a 2 hour and 14 minute run time. Had the film tried to cast all the other women that Mercury had dated there just would have been far too many characters and the focus would have pulled away from the band and just been more focused on his sexuality so again, I think it was a conscious effort to show the film for the artist and the legacy he wanted to be known for.

As for Jim Hutton, the film really doesn’t have a whole lot of him in it but given the private nature of the couple’s relationship it makes some sense. He’s also a nice counter to the portrayal Paul Prenter, as another gay man who isn’t into the drug or party scene and there’s a sense of respect between he and Mercury. Did the scene with Freddie Mercury’s parents meeting him and being all accepting of their relationship happen in real life? I couldn’t say, but I know that their religious background was not accepting of homosexual relationships and that was a big part of why Mercury was closeted for so long, there just isn’t an interview with them to state if this scene has any basis in reality. For the film though it is a nice moment and creates this nice book end because it’s just before Live Aid he makes his father proud because he performs for the benefit of other people.

So all in all it’s a solid film that really shows some of the band’s most important moments. While some liberties are taken, it doesn’t try to really judge Freddie Mercury for the lifestyle he lead or even use him as a cautionary tale. It’s more about the friendship of the band, how they were like a family and how at the end of the day it’s your real friends that you can always count on.

Take 5 Sarah Vaughan

Courtesy of National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Some singers can have all the formal training in the world and hit the right notes. Others, like Sarah Vaughan, can open her mouth and radiate divine and sassy otherworldliness. Though racism in the country and the conservatories barred her from her dream of studying opera, Vaughan, with her three octave range, had the power and the vibrato to match, even surpass any classical prima donna. Her baroque grandiosity and playful joie de vivre was clearly better suited for jazz where she was equally at home doing scat-filled bebop and searing ballads delivered as torchy arias.

She honed her piano and vocal abilities in church. Initially Vaughan entered herself in the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night as a pianist, where she did very well, winning second prize. As good as her piano skills were, her singing was her forte. When she reentered as a singer, she won top honor and scored a recording contract with Mercury Records.

Her warm, personable voice helped her become one of the most in-demand vocalists. Widespread success was a bit of a double edged sword as she wound up recording a fair amount of subpar novelty songs (like “Broken Hearted Melody,” which she later denounced strongly) with maudlin easy listening arrangements. However, she never entirely embraced being a jazz vocalist as she crossed over into other genres. (Some of her pop material like “Brazilian Romance” was quite good).

Later in her career, she boldly displayed her impressive range and cute silly humor in performances. While some critics found some of her later work to be heavy-handed, I found her to be at her best when she was at her biggest (though I will concede that she sometimes took it a bit too far with her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”)

Although Vaughan chain smoked, boozed and feasted freely, you’d never know by listening to her sing. Her voice and her technique sounded more impeccable and effortless. If her hedonism didn’t tarnish her talent, it eventually got her body. After a year of struggling with emphysema, Sarah Vaughan died in 1990 at the age of 66. Here are five performances that represent her superhuman talent.

Easy Living

She performed several different, but wonderful renditions of this ballad. I like this version best because it’s the most playful (I love the way she delivers “but it’s fun”) and the most virtuosic. The way she slides from baritone to soprano is jaw dropping.

Sassy’s/Scat Blues

This entirely vocalese number demonstrates Vaughan’s brilliant ability to swing, belt, and sound bluesy at the same time whilst switching octaves in split seconds.

I Remember April

Although she more often sang vocalese, she was equally adept at fast paced scat as she does here with gusto. The pianist is also on fire.

Black Coffee

Even at in this minimalist, quiet rendition of this torch song, Vaughan conveys so much. Listen side by side with other versions by Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney and you’ll appreciate how special Vaughan’s voice is.

Bill Bailey

You can tell that Sarah Vaughan loved to perform, and her infectious energy rubs off on this Swedish audience who commanded to take not one, but two encores. Vaughan really works it out here.

Podcast: Alternative Oscars Episode 5 – 1953

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody.

It’s been a long gap between episodes. My fault entirely. I’m thrilled to unleash our 5th episode of The Alternative Oscars Podcast. This episode, we discuss movies of 1953. We dish our thoughts on the five films nominated that year and then offer our nominees of films eligible in 1953 that we think are better.

What did you think about the Best Picture nominees? Or our nominees and winners? What would be your picks for 1953?