With news thin on the ground regarding a starting date for the Sacha Baron Cohen starring biopic of Freddie Mercury, Queen fans will have to satisfy their thirst for big screen fandom with Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live In Budapest ’86, a concert movie presenting the band’s trip to Eastern Europe, complete with Mercury singing old Hungarian folk songs. WARNING: Contains no scenes of Brian May defending badgers.
In 1986 Queen took to the road for what would ultimately be their final tour. On the back of their monumental performance at Live Aid, they were setting a pretty solid case for being named the Biggest Band In The World, selling out concert after concert throughout Europe. While the final stop in the Magic Tour would see Freddie and company play to close to 300,000 at Knebworth, it was the band’s trip behind the Iron Curtain that gets the big screen concert movie treatment this weekend.
Freddie Mercury once claimed that Queen were “the Cecil B DeMille of rock and roll”. The only way to test that hypothesis was to project footage of the band onto the biggest screen possible to see if they hold the attention of cinema-goers like the visionary film-maker once did. Which is exactly what Hungarian Rhapsody does, to great success. From opening number, ‘One Vision’, Live In Budapest reminds those that may have forgotten that Queen are, quite simply, one of the most important bands of the 20th Century and in Freddie Mercury, they lay claim to one of, if not, the greatest frontman of all time.
Watching Mercury capture and captivate the crowd conjures up the cocksure claim by Stillwater lead singer Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous; “You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn’t getting off, and I make him get off.” Freddie got people off. You may have heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a million times before, just like the enthusiastic crowd here, but he delivers it with a freshness that makes you forget its overuse over 25 years on.
Storming through a heavily audience-aided ‘Under Pressure’ – including the lively vocal to and fro recently displayed by way of archive footage at the Olympics Closing Ceremony – the band throw in ‘Love Of My Life’ and ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, showcasing an intimacy that shouldn’t be possible to a crowd the size of a small country. With a bombastic cover of Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’, the concert truly presents all sides of Queen.
Where Hungarian Rhapsody lets itself down is in its brief jaunts outside of the venue. “See Roger Taylor Go-Karting! See Brian May in a hot-air balloon!” No thanks. This narrative choice offers nothing but rock stars looking bored. We’re here to see Queen play music. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a concert movie and there are distinct differences, top of which is it should feel like you’re at a concert. This behind the scenes bullshit, doesn’t make us feel like VIPs, it just removes us from the atmosphere, like being forced to get up and go for a piddle every 20 minutes.
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And while this does detract – Hungarian Rhapsody lacks the flow of truly great concert movies like Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz – compared to recent cinema releases for the likes of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, this, to use Freddie’s own parlance, is The Greatest Show On Earth.
One vision of a band at the height of their powers. For Queen fans a trip to the multiplex this weekend should be a guarantee, for those that may have forgotten how good they were – due to endless coin gobbling tosh like We Will Rock You and repeated outings for May’s hair and opinions – we’d highly recommend you get reacquainted with an extraordinary band, a band that have more than likely heavily influenced a large chunk of your music collection.