Freddie Mercury Has Been My Idol Since I Was 10. I Will Not Pay To See ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’
Out of principle, despite being a writer, I don’t have favourite movies or books. There are too many I have not seen or read yet and only more will come out eventually, so I simply cannot choose a finite favourite. Music is different. I have known since the very first time I heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a kid that Queen is my favourite band, Freddie Mercury my favourite musician. I own every album, I’ve read the books, watched the documentaries and concerts, given money to the Mercury Phoenix Trust for years (which you should too), and even travelled from New York to Wembley Stadium dressed as Freddie Mercury. Freddie helped me discover my voice as an artist and as a human being. Nonetheless, I simply cannot support the upcoming cash-grab biopic about him. It is my very love of Queen that prevents me from buying a ticket to Bohemian Rhapsody.
The song title “Bohemian Rhapsody” is emblematic of Queen’s legacy and a window into the depths of the artist known as Freddie Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5th 1946 in Zanzibar. The song is multilayered; flashy with soft subtleties, and wild, romantic, and epic like the man himself. The song was and remains subversive — a non-cynical ode to creativity and nonsense (no one will truly ever know how to do the Fandango…), composed and sung with authentic musical celebration. On the contrary, Bohemian Rhapsody is a lazy title for a film about Queen and Freddie Mercury, indicative of its hollow nature. It is cheap fan-baiting, and exemplary of the filmmakers’, and more accurately drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May’s, exploitative, diminished creativity (bassist John Deacon has long since separated himself from Queen’s dealings out of respect for Freddie).
Beyond the alleged revisionism on Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, a truly insidious flaw of Bohemian Rhapsody is its vapid consumerist approach. The movie looks excruciatingly average. And it’s not just average like a boring movie, it’s average at the expense of all that could have made it breathtaking and worth the money to see. It’s average, and Freddie would never settle for average.
Look at the production itself: Bryan Singer is an artistically average, financially dependable director whose only legacy is keeping the X-Men franchise in Fox’s control and allegations of sexual abuse. The only main actor of note is Rami Malek, who will do a fine job as Freddie, but I wonder if he will give an impression rather than a performance. This film is essentially nothing but a long promo for its soundtrack, which has no original recordings on it whatsoever. While usually it is the record company or studio heads who churn out bankable, status-quo biopics, in this case the ones to blame for the complete selling out of Queen are the two remaining members of Queen themselves. Maybe we should just be calling them Smile again.
It’s average, and Freddie would never settle for average.
Everything Roger Taylor and Brian May have done as Queen since Freddie’s death in 1991 has been for their gain. In the process they’ve sapped all that was rebellious and original from Queen all the while invoking Freddie’s name. They’ve released countless Greatest Hits albums and remasters, including their own touch ups on Freddie’s solo material. They treat HIV/AIDS awareness benefits like a circuit, which while thankfully beneficial to a good cause, feels exploitative not just of their friend’s death, but of all who have suffered from the diseases. Desperation if not simply clouded judgement and tone deafness have lead to Queen+ which saw Roger and and Brian bring on the most canny of vocalists to bastardise their songbook, most notably Paul Rogers in 2005 and later Adam Lambert of American Idol notoriety (fame isn’t the right word) in 2012. Then there’s the dumpster-fire of a rock-opera We Will Rock You, but we don’t have time to dissect the musical equivalent of a Transformers sequel.
Enticed as I am, I cannot attack the film for its apparent rewriting of history, in which Freddie’s tame relationship with Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton) seems to hold focus over his eccentric partying, embrace of his bi-sexuality, and subsequent male relationships. The film has not yet been released and so the “sensitive” handling of Freddie’s sexuality (as both Malek and Boynton’s rebuttals phrase it) could very well be present and the studio just doesn’t want to spoil anything (surprise Freddie Mercury was gay the whole time?). This does not let the film off the hook.
The film follows a standard flashback model to track the band from foundation to the legendary Live Aid concert in 1985, therefore avoiding Freddie’s death from AIDS complications in 1991. I’ll give the screenwriters benefit of the doubt for narrative tightening, but the advertising and publicity of the film are great indicators that the timeline and spotlight on Mary Austin are deliberate choices, made to assist the film’s primary objective: capitalisation. Bohemian Rhapsody is not about Queen, Freddie Mercury, or music. It’s about making a buck. Even though Queen was no stranger to taking on money-making projects like Flash Gordon or Highlander, they maintained a creative edge. Fox, Rupert Murdoch’s company, have “hetwashed” Queen’s story so that even the most hesitant, ignorant audiences who never even liked Queen will pay to watch unknown actors do karaoke on a big screen.
Several years ago, I saw Motown: The Musical on Broadway. The show, as representative of actors and musicians of colour as it is, is a poorly written cash cow. In it, the show’s hero, producer Berry Gordy, travels chronologically through fifty of the greatest songs of all time, solving racism, inventing a musical genre, getting the girl of his dreams all while his stars resent his success and he wins them over in the end because he’s the legend Berry Gordy. Looking in my playbill I discovered that this clean-cut, industrial jukebox musical was not only produced by Berry Gordy, but written by him too! Devoid of depth, nuance, and the darker parts of an important legacy, the only drivers of Motown’s story were the ones the main character wanted you to see. The rest is all just music you’ve already heard before — musical nostalgia porn filled with impressions. That is what Bohemian Rhapsody is for Queen. Roger Taylor, Brian May, and Twentieth Century Fox have decided to use Freddie Mercury for capital gain and that is why I refuse to give them a single cent.