Cinematic rockstars

I wish I could somehow reclaim my innocence.  Sometimes sophistication & experience get in the way.

No you can’t believe everything you read, especially when you overthink (….guilty). When will I learn?

I came to Rocketman this past weekend more or less accepting what I had heard & read about it.  I heard that “ho-hum another biographical film with music about a rock-star” and tried to get beyond that, to recognize the film on its own terms.  Yes we’d already had Bohemian Rhapsody. Hollywood does lots of imitation, so of course when you get two that seem similar a kind of cynicism about the business takes away much of the lustre. At such times be especially on guard against BS in the press because of course a film is much more than just someone appearing to imitate someone else. Usually one big project has little to do with another big project except in the sense that someone noticed that this subject is marketable, helping to get them a green light. Where the first one of a type might be understood as risky, the second one is suddenly a genre.  I recall that when there was a second film adapting Les Liaisons Dangereuses I heard that Valmont couldn’t be as good as Dangerous Liaisons.

And when I saw it the opposite was true.  And they’re ultimately two very different films. The first one into the theatre isn’t necessarily the better one. And sometimes some film critic takes a short-cut in observing a similarity, that becomes the story.

I wish I had gone to see Rocketman in a theatre during its first run.

A film by an aging rockstar seeking to tell his own story? Nevermind Rocketman, TIFF led off this year with a doc about The Band focusing on Robbie Robertson, so of course this is an idea with lots of interest.  While we’ve seen lots of films about films & actors, the study of the music business hasn’t gone nearly so far, not when we recall that Inside the Actors Studio for example, began 25 years ago. If this is to be a new genre? Welcome! I can’t wait.

I loved Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that won its star Rami Malek a best actor Oscar. I came to Rocketman expecting something similar because, between the trailer and my own expectations, I couldn’t really unsee what I’d seen, which framed the two as in a sense of the same genre. Argh, but they’re not really the same.

During lunchtime today I watched the title track again.

It’s not what I expected. Yes Taron Egerton is the actor portraying Elton John, and that means not just acting but singing too, but he doesn’t begin the song, as you may have noticed watching this video (just now? Or perhaps you already saw it). There are at least two other actors portraying the character, whose name is “Reggie”, namely Matthew Illesley as the younger Reggie and Kit Connor as an older version.  Reggie is the young man who then changes his  name to “Elton”.

From time to time I find insights into human psychology while watching a play or an opera or a movie. The conceit at the heart of this film is pure gold.  Who would have expected that the carefully constructed version of Elton John’s life might offer something of depth?

During his apprenticeship playing keyboards in rock-bands in bars, Reggie (as he was then calling himself) hears something powerful that he took to heart.

Reggie (his real name & persona) had to be killed. He had to die: so that there could be an Elton (the stage name, a new larger than life creation).  Elton gives himself not just a new name but a whole new way of living & behaving, erasing Reggie.

And no wonder then that Elton meets Reggie at the bottom of the pool in the middle of trying to kill himself. At this point has Elton forgotten about Reggie? Estranged from his true self, at war with his inner child (to invoke another idea that has become cliché)?

Doesn’t he look a bit surprised to find himself while losing himself?

I was blind-sided by this image that I have never encountered before, that seems useful at least as a model for what some people do, possibly a cautionary tale: what never to do.  There’s a lot more to this film than I expected. The songs are used less in the style of Bohemian Rhapsody, where the tunes are shown more or less in their historical context, and more in the manner of ABBA’s songs in Mamma Mia or the Beatles songs in Across the Universe, where a plot-point becomes the occasion for a famous song, and never mind whether or not it’s at the right time in the artist’s chronology. “Your Song” may or may not have been written as shown in this film, as a kind of love-song from the gay Elton to Bernie his straight but nonetheless loving lyricist. For that relationship alone –a loving relationship with ups and downs between a straight man and a gay man—I am indebted to the film-makers, something we’ve not seen often enough in film.

There are moments to put alongside the best in Amadeus (thinking of the moments near the end when Mozart sketches the confutatis) to show us inspiration at work. Is this actually a musical that we will someday see done live in theatres? I would love that, even if it is, after all, rated R, which might not work quite as well in a live theatre setting. First and foremost there are a ton of songs in this film, if we include the little snippets and the wonderful allusions in the soundtrack. I saw 22 songs listed when I searched online. No I don’t pretend that I know them all, even if I’m enough of a nerd that I was a fan when many of them appeared in the 1970s. They didn’t use such huge hits as the song “Daniel” or “Candle in the Wind”: but I am pretty sure I heard brief allusions to them in the soundtrack. So when we are watching Bernie & Elton discussing a reconciliation, to resume working together again after a break, we hear some of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the song that was sung during their big fight earlier in the film.

Perhaps the real star(s) of the film are the songs, arguably the greatest recent body of work from a pop star since the Beatles, and largely under the radar until now.

Of course this is the same Elton John who wrote songs in Lion King, so it’s not as though he’s been invisible. I wonder if that means he will be competing against himself at Oscar time, if say the song “Rocketman” is up against the new song for the recent film (and that doesn’t even include “The Circle of Life”).

Rocketman is surprisingly good.  I was suggesting it to a friend as we talked about varieties of bad parenting.  Chances are you will see yourself or someone you know in this film.  There’s a lot to it, illustrations of every variety of human behaviour.  I’ve only sat through it three times this week via pay TV, which makes me want to see it a few more times.

I guess I’ll have to buy it.


This entry was posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Dance, theatre & musicals, Music and musicology, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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