How many critics are going to clue in on the misnomer in the title, the Rolling Stones owning the trademark “Greatest Rock Band in the World” by eminent domain, if not hard fact. Indeed, it is hard to argue with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and their longevity…staggering income, and timeless popularity as not the heirs to the throne, but those who had created it. Despite the “massive” popularity discussed in this documentary (listen to the “Flash Gordon” segment, and the quip against the critics), this critic remains steadfast that Queen is a great band for its specific niche, but the fans of Jimi Hendrix, Lennon & McCartney, Janis Joplin, The Doors and a variety of other major, major stars have a solid argument that, though Queen is a mighty force, it can hardly be considered the “greatest” rock & roll band in the world. To go down that avenue is to ignore the legacy of Freddie Mercury…it is a bit insulting to his memory, in my opinion…
When Queen first arrived on the scene some long-forgotten Elektra exec was quoted as saying that they had found “the new Doors.” To anyone enamored of the music of Krieger/Morrison/Manzarek/Densmore, that was a definite slight and indicative of what artists – and those who follow the art – have to put up with from a funky industry that tends to get in the way of the same art it is required to promote.
So now that we’ve got that out of the way here’s the good news …this is a superb documentary of a very important group which lost its lead vocalist to a plague, not through drugs, assassination or electrocution. And don’t laugh at; Yardbirds vocalist Keith Relf was 33 years old in 1976 when he got zapped in , Stone The Crows’ guitarist Les Harvey 27 in 1972 when the sparks flew),
Just the name or biopic title – “Days of Our Lives” – suggests a soap opera, appropriate as each major celebrity of any reality in this plane of existence – politics, sports, entertainment – casting the villain as Paul Prenter – the former manager of Freddie Mercury. Quips discussing Freddie’s “entourage…I won’t mention any names, like Paul Prenter, for instance” just one, another stating “he was a very, very bad influence on Freddie, hence, on the band, really. He very much wanted our music to sound like you had just walked into a gay club, and I didn’t”
Drummer John Taylor tells about the securing of the deal that launched their fame: “Before we signed to a record label we actually signed to Trident Productions, a management company run by the Sheffield Brothers, who had their own studio (Trident Studios), right in the middle of Soho”, the band recording their first album while still being students finishing off their degrees.
Producer Roy Thomas Baker noting “We had to do it in what time was available because, you know, the studio’s being booked up all the time. So we had to go in, sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning, sometimes, you know, finishing at 6 in the morning, all those sorts of weird times that nobody wanted.”
“What we decided to do was to go with a production company rather than with a record company. And the deal was that we made the album for the production company. They sell it to the record company. In retrospect, it’s probably the worst thing we ever did” said guitarist Brian May.
The deal they were on, according to the DVD, kept the band from actually making any money, resulting in “Death On Two Legs”, chronicling the management troubles on A Night At The Opera in the same fashion that John Fogerty put his business problems into song with “Zanz Kant Danz”. A YouTube video notes that the title “was altered and re-titled “Vanz Kant Danz” a few months after the release of the album in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a defamation lawsuit from Saul Zaentz, owner of Fantasy Records.”
But what survives beyond the soap opera, beyond the triumphs and the tragedies, is the music, and the memories the fans have of the hits on the radio.
Exploring those hits is what brings extra life to this documentary, looking in to a title like “Somebody To Love” and the influence of Aretha Franklin on this operatic ensemble – its venturing into “white soul”. It’s quite the revelation. A “lost” Top of the Pops film of “Killer Queen” from October 1974 sprinkled into the music and the stories, is a wonderful flavor for the obsessive completists who flock to these kind of biopics.
The Queen documentary chronicles the group with quick cuts, a collage of photos frosted with narration, and establishes for the viewer the band’s place in history, telling the story in a compelling way that will appeal to non-fans as well as the devoted following. Grade A all the way around.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.