Imagine The Great Pretender (2012)


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Imagine The Great Pretender Movie Reviews

“I Am The Great Pretender” ! – Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender is an Emmy / Rose d’Or Award winning 2012 feature-length documentary about Queen singer Freddie Mercury and his attempt to forge a solo career. The documentary premiered on BBC One in edited form as part of the Imagine series, and later the Director’s Cut was shown on BBC Four. It gained 3.5 million viewers when aired on BBC One in October 2012 and a further 1.2 million when shown on BBC Four.

Reuniting the Producer, Editor and Director of Photography behind 2011’s widely acclaimed Queen: Days of Our Lives BBC documentary, The Great Pretender in similar vein presents a compelling insight into its subject matter, unearthing previously undiscovered or rarely seen footage.

Produced and Directed by Rhys Thomas, a lifelong Queen Fan and expert (to the extent that he famously broke the Mastermind all-time record points score with a specialist subject of Queen), Thomas has this time turned his attention to the Freddie Mercury archive, going back as early as 1976 in search of vintage gems which reveal more than ever before the inside story of Mercury’s life and career and the solo projects he worked on outside of Queen.

The extensive archive footage is drawn from rare interviews with Mercury, concerts, video shoots and personal material, much of it being seen for the first time, along with newly filmed contributions from fellow Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, Queen Manager Jim Beach, Soprano Montserrat Caballé, composers David Arnold and Mike Moran, lyricist Tim Rice and many more. From it emerges a portrait of a man who was very different from his flamboyant onstage public persona.

The Great Pretender includes for the first time ever Mercury and Rod Stewart singing their 1984 demo for “Let Me Live”, a snippet of the then unreleased Michael Jackson collaboration “There Must Be More To Life Than This”, and Mercury with The Royal Ballet in 1979, never seen in full before.

Courtesy of Neville Cawas Bardoliwalla OBE

Delivers on a difficult topic

Can a person have bigger teeth offstage than on stage? It seems Freddie Mercury gave very few interviews, and this documentary keeps going back to the same one. In it, Mercury’s accent, gestures, and even face are scarcely reminiscent of the character he played on stage. But that’s the main point of the movie, and of its title. Like most such documentaries, this one doesn’t include complete songs; but it reminds us how many well- remembered hits Mercury accomplished while– according to the film– caring less for them than for the constant pursuit of the next, more ambitious project. It is insistent in its understanding of Mercury’s behavior as a child of his times, reminding us that the idea of free love without consequences did not give up to the fear of AIDS without a strong fight. I’d say you don’t have to be a fan of Mercury’s music (I’m not) in order to be impressed by this tribute.

Mixed feelings

As you read reviews on this production, you have to remember that most (if not all) of us writing never actually “knew” the man, but I have to begin this review by saying, that which I do know, and have learned, watched and read, tells me that this is a very unbalanced program. Having listened to their music from the very beginning, been fortunate enough to see them in concert in 1980, and as a fan seen, heard and read too many articles to list here, I think the documentary gives a very poor representation – those with little knowledge of the man, or the band may come away from this thinking he was self absorbed, spoiled, arrogant and a bit of a jerk, and that’s a real shame. I also don’t know how you can breeze through Queen’s early library in a 5 minute montage and then spend 15 minutes talking about Freddies sexual proclivities, and the gay scenes in New York, and around the World. The program focuses, for the most part on Freddie’s solo career attempts, the disastrous (in terms of sales) Bad Guy album, later The Great Pretender, and lastly his collaboration with Montserrat Caballe on the Barcelona album. I’ll make a personal observation here, that way too much time is spent on the Barcelona project, as some have already said, perhaps to coincide with the re-release of the album, this documentary almost is an advert for that release. There are some great on camera interviews, a lot of previously unseen footage, a piece on Freddie performing with the Royal Ballet, and even the unreleased collaboration with Michael Jackson is discussed – imagine how much that would sell for today if it was dug up and released??

What this documentary showed me was what a complex man Freddie was, almost a tortured artist, opera singer, ballet dancer, writer, poet and lover all rolled into a rock star, who at times fell victim to his own success. What it didn’t show was the full picture. For me Freddie was a great showman, probably one of THE greatest frontmen, and in my mind, no band ever performed better to big stadium audiences. I personally could care less about his personal life, the hedonism of the 70’s and 80’s may seem shocking to people watching now in 2013, but I was always more interested in his music.

Brian May said of Freddie that he was ” A Lover of Life, a Singer of Songs” and these words are carved on his statue on the shore of Lake Geneva. Whatever you take away from this documentary, take it with a pinch of salt, and remember you have only seen about 20% of the full picture.