Bo­hemian Rhap­sody

Sun.Star Baguio - - Opinion -

LIKE the band whose story it tells, the movie “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” di­vides the crit­ics from the crowds. Nearly ev­ery critic praised lead ac­tor Rami Malek for a con­vinc­ing por­trayal of Fred­die Mer­cury, but found the movie san­i­tized, for­mu­laic, and bland, very much un­like Queen and Mer­cury them­selves. But the crowd—or at least the mem­bers of the crowd who took the time to share their re­views on­line—loved the movie. Its num­bers are solid. Va­ri­ety mag­a­zine re­ported on Satur­day that “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” was on track to make US$43 mil­lion in its first week­end in North Amer­i­can movie houses alone.

What did the crit­ics not like? The most com­mon com­plaints were that it re­vealed too lit­tle about Mer­cury’s over­size per­son­al­ity and mor­al­ized too much, in that it seemed to sug­gest Mer­cury would have fared so much bet­ter if he hadn’t got­ten mixed up with a fast, gay crowd and, in par­tic­u­lar, a gay lover and per­sonal as­sis­tant. Not be­ing a movie critic, I went to watch “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” ex­pect­ing only a bit of a nostalgia trip and a few laughs, and I got more than my money’s worth. For the thrill of feel­ing the crowd re­act to the bass line of “An­other One Bites the Dust” (1980), I would pay for the price of ad­mis­sion again. That en­dures as one of my fa­vorite bass lines of all time, right up there with “Come To­gether” (1969) by The Bea­tles and “Pic­tures of You” (1990) by The Cure.

True, I can’t claim to know for cer­tain what “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” means any bet­ter than I did be­fore see­ing this movie, but isn’t imag­in­ing what the song­writer was try­ing to say part of the joys of be­ing a mu­sic fan? Like a let­ter or a book, a song finds com­ple­tion in the lis­tener’s heart and mind. I read BoRha as an an­them of rein­ven­tion. Some of its lines sug­gest how dif­fi­cult it can be to dis­card an old self that one has out­grown, to pull away when such forces as tra­di­tion and fam­ily ties seek to keep one in place. What the Ital­ian Scaramouche and the Span­ish fan­dango have to do with these ideas, I still haven’t fig­ured out yet. Per­haps the band wanted some fun lay­ered into this rock opera they were so de­ter­mined to per­form.

Far­rokh Bul­sara was 29 when he wrote it. He would have turned 72 this year, and it’s any­one’s guess how he would feel about the fact that his songs live on in KTV bars (though not al­ways in the pitch he in­tended) and late-night ses­sions of garage bands a long, long way from Lon­don and Zanz­ibar. There’s even a bossa nova ver­sion of “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” that will test your ma­tu­rity and tol­er­ance for other peo­ple’s mu­si­cal pref­er­ences. One thing I did learn from the movie was that “An­other One Bites the Dust” prob­a­bly wasn’t writ­ten as a sports sta­dium an­them, which is what countless post-game air­ings have made of “We are the Cham­pi­ons” and “We Will Rock You” (both 1977). Is it about the song­writer’s mu­si­cal ri­vals? His sex­ual con­quests? And who is Steve, who “walks war­ily down the street”? These ques­tions were not on our minds as my friends and I waited for “An­other One...” to play between sets when­ever we tagged along for our high school vol­ley­ball team’s off-cam­pus matches in 1988 and 1989. We sim­ply thought it was a good song for cheer­ing our team on.

If your fam­ily liked to wait for the early evening lo­cal news­cast on GMA, you prob­a­bly saw some Queen mu­sic videos a lot in those years. “Ra­dio Ga Ga” (1984) re­ceived air­time nearly ev­ery day, which meant that be­fore you could watch a comic book come to life in A-ha’s “Take on Me” (1985) or see Madonna rolling around on the street in “Burn­ing Up” (1983), Queen would show you a fam­ily, all wear­ing gas masks, gath­ered around a din­ner ta­ble while their old-fash­ioned wire­less glowed from a shelf, and out­side the march of in­dus­try changed the world as they knew it. Mer­cury sang, “You’ve yet to have your finest hour.” Which was not en­tirely true, but was a lovely thing to say, none­the­less.

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