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The Great Pretender
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78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2012
Format: Blu-ray
Let me start by stating that I am biased. I believe Freddie Mercury to be the greatest showman of the late 20th century. People talk about him being a one off, but that really is understating it. Michael Jackson was a one off too, but his style has been copied ad infinitum, whereas anybody foolish enough to try to copy what Freddie could do onstage would surely be laughed at. With seemingly sparse footage of him away from the stage and the band though, I wondered if this would be just the usual boring retread of the same well-worn anecdotes. When I saw the likes of Paul Gambaccini and Peter 'Phoebe' Freestone I became even more concerned. I shouldn't have been. Hearing them gleefully talking about Freddie in his heyday was fantastic.
So did the film live up to my expectations? No, in fact- it far succeeded them. I'd go as far as to say that this is actually superior to the Queen documentary, as a lot of this is unseen footage, and the story concentrates on certain aspects of Freddie's life that hasn't really been covered before. The Queen story is a fascinating one, but has been exhausted over the years, offering very little in the way of something new. This, on the other hand is full of fascinating material, and goes a long way towards humanising a great man. What it ultimately does though, is to make him seem more complicated, more complex and mysterious than ever before.
With lots of footage of Freddie offstage, and off-guard the film basically covers the solo years of the mid to late eighties, beginning with him discovering and falling in love with dance music in the gay clubs of New York and Munich. Based around an interview that Freddie gave to David Wiggs in which he talks about his love life, his career and his views on the future of the band at that point.
I could go on forever, but will wrap this up by saying that the pieces about his relationship with the risible Paul Prenter, his duets with Mosterrat Caballe and Michael Jackson, and his stint with the Royal Ballet are just some of the highlights here. The black and white footage of him on the set of the 'Days Of Our Lives' music video is what really seals it for me though. Close to the end of his life, but ever the showman- these few clips look wonderful and show a softer, more reflective side of his huge personality. Sterling stuff indeed.
The blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic. The HD footage of outtakes from the video for 'I Want To Break Free' was thrilling, and I'm looking forward to the blu-ray re-releases of all the old Queen videos that must be surely forthcoming. Now that Rhys Thomas (who has done a fantastic job piecing all of this together) has said that there will be no more documentaries I should imagine that a lot of that cut footage from those old video shoots will surface on some Greatest Flix package in the future. Here's hoping.
So, with stories of llamas in studios, band in-fighting and lavish excess all-around I must say that this has been a thrilling addition to the Mercury canon, and though it seems that all areas have been exhausted I am hopeful that other aspects of his career (the mid-to-late 70's period for a start) will be covered in the future. For now though- this is an exhaustive and thrilling look at an enigma.
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47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
As I write this review, there are already two previous reviews, obviously by huge Freddie Mercury fans. I may be the first one posting a review who only really knows Mercury as part of the band Queen, and who can't honestly say that I prefer Queen to many other rock bands. Still, I'm giving this DVD five stars as an informative and entertaining music documentary.

I came to this DVD after watching - and reviewing here on Amazon - the music doc "Queen - Days of Our Lives" back in February 2012. It was produced and directed by the same team as this one and I found the earlier documentary well worth watching. This one is the same.

Fellow reviewer Bug DeLug - obviously a passionate Mercury fan - has gone into a lot of detail about this DVD, so there is no reason to repeat much of the info. I will try to expand on it.

The core program on this single DVD (I got the DVD, not the Bluray) is the 85-minute documentary. There are plenty of rare interviews with Mercury included and lots of archival footage. (The list of sources in the closing credits show how deep the producers dug.). There are contemporary interviews with critics, managers and two other members of Queen as well as Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe, who duetted with Mercury on their album "Barcelona". There's another 2 minutes of bonuses too:

Freddie Goes Solo is a 7-minute TV interview with Mercury from 1985 which was excerpted in the documentary
Extended interview with Caballe - also 7-minutes
The Making of "Barcelona 2012" - (5 minutes) in which the orchestrator who added a full symphonic score to the original album for release in 2012 and Caballe are interviewed.

Even if you are not a Mercury or Queen die-hard you'll find this DVD worth watching if you follow the pop music industry at all.

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2012
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
I've been a fan of Queen and Freddie for nearly 30 years. The one problem with Queen related releases until now is that it tends to be a rehash of the same old stuff.
This release is something new and fresh. A humorous, intelligent look at a great entertainer. Wonderful interview clips either never or rarely seen before.
You really get a good feeling for what Freddie was like as an entertainer and a man.
At times you'll marvel at his outrageous flirting with his interviewer. Then in the next moment you'll be served up a rare snippet of him working a song in the studio.
I really don't think anything existed like this until now. The disc represents a beautifully created snapshot of Freddies life.
I hope old fans will give it a chance and rediscover and remember just how wonderful Freddie was. I hope new fans will buy this disc so they really get to experience the man behind some of the great songs of of the 70's and 80's.

Why are you still reading this? Get ordering!! :-)
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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2012
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Producing a documentary about Freddie Mercury by focusing on his most arcane work (the 1988 opera "Barcelona") is a bit like making a Beatles movie focusing on Side Two of "Yellow Submarine." Rhys Thomas gets high marks on his depth of research, digging up all sorts of never-before-seen clips of Mercury. Unfortunately, it's all cobbled together with no real sense of scope or chronology. The documentary begins, inexplicably, with the story of Mercury's ill-fated Michael Jackson duet, which was rightfully buried by both artists but has gained interest post mortem. We glide through Mercury's childhood and adolescence, which is in itself strange and unique enough for a documentary, but we never hear from Mercury's mother and sister, both of whom are still alive and full of stories. Instead, we get conjecture from questionable interview subjects like TV host Paul Gambaccini and comedian Matt Lucas from "Little Britain." There are some good anecdotes from Queen manager Jim Beach as well as Brian May and Roger Taylor, producers Reinhold Mack and David Richards, but notably absent was Mercury's lifelong best friend, Mary Austin.

Rhys Thomas doesn't seem too interested in the music of Queen -- their brilliant catalog from 1973 up to 1980's "The Game" was brutally chopped up and heaved into a 2-minute montage. But he has a keen eye for the salacious, including Mercury's most profane sound bytes and wild images of nightclubbery. He spends far too much time retelling the story of Mercury's sloppy "Mr. Bad Guy" solo album, when I'd much rather see video clips from his most iconic works, including "Radio Ga Ga," "We Will Rock You," "I'm Going Slightly Mad," "The Miracle," and "The Show Must Go On," all of which were entirely omitted from the film. That's right -- we never once hear "We Will Rock You" in any form! If it seems like something is missing from this documentary... well, there is.

Instead, we get "Barcelona." And a LOT of "Barcelona," an album which was ignored when it was released and has not improved over time. The fact is, this documentary will appeal to die hard Queen fans but someone unfamiliar with Mercury might come away with a stilted and negative view of the man and his music.

Lots of Queen documentaries have been made, especially since Mercury's death in 1991, but the best one (by far) was 1986's "The Magic Years" by Hannes Rossacher & Rudi Dolezal. It's a more exciting and upbeat take on the band's music, and if you are a true fan of music, you'll appreciate the endless shots of Mercury doing what he did best: tearing up concert stages all over the world. Rhys Thomas's "The Great Pretender" underutilizes concert footage, relying on clips from "Wembley," "Live Aid," and "Budapest." Nothing new there.

But the fact is, Mercury's campy spirit and that voice... that addictive voice... can turn just about any piece of shlock into something good. Such is the case with "The Great Pretender," an entertaining film in spite of its ham-handed director, with all of the credit going to Freddie.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2012
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Great doc on the best showman in music history. Doc focuses on Freddie's solo career rather than on his Queen years. The years with opera and Barcelona are really delved into.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2012
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
What can be said about Mercury that hasn't been written already? The 20+ years since he died of AIDS has seen numerous books, tell-alls, videos, etc. Nevertheless, this is a good film for someone who is already big Freddie fan. For someone not a big fan, it wouldn't be very appealing.

The big Freddie fan would appreciate the interviews with those who knew him professionally and personally, and get a kick out of the little stories that reveal more about the man. The film, while it does appreciate Freddie, doesn't paint him as a saint. Most notable for me was the revelation from his producer/engineer Mack, who worked with Mercury on his solo album "Mr. Bad Guy", that the Queen superstar approached the project with a bit less ambition than expected. Mercury, it seems, wanted to have the success of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" without putting in the requisite work required.

One comes away from this film realizing a bit more of Mercury's foibles--this isn't hagiography. Glimpses of the man most people never saw behind the scenes are invaluable...but again, these are likely to be appreciated primarily for someone already familiar with most of the story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 27, 2014
Format: Blu-ray
This documentary sheds light on the life of Freddie Mercury, the late, great lead singer and composer of Queen. While the legend of Mercury has always burned brightly in the UK (and, to a lesser extent in continental Europe), he remains a relative enigma in the US. This fact was brought home to me recently when my wife and I went to see the Queen-themed "Rock of Ages" with a few of her co-workers, all of whom were stunned to find out that "all these songs" (that they obviously adored) were Queen hits.

The surviving members of the band have been quite emphatic about the reason Mercury and the band isn't as fondly regarded here as across the Atlantic. They feel it's due to this market's reaction as Mercury's on-stage persona got more overt. In short, the US market loved long-haired, proto-rock 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Freddie, but rejected the short-haired, mustachioed, tank top-wearing successor. Had this been 2014, things would probably be different. Lady Gaga has absolutely nothing on Freddie Mercury. In the early 80s, however, mainstream acceptance was an entirely different matter.

It's that lack of familiarity with the latter stage Freddie that makes the 'The Great Pretender' such interesting viewing. The short story known here is: he was the lead singer of Queen; he contracted AIDS; he died. That's far from the full story. First, the creative arc of the band extended far beyond the U.S. audience's span of interest. We missed out on many fine years. [In those days, if you were shut out of radio as new Queen works were at that point, you were effectively unseen and unheard.]

Second, Mercury's creative juices and wide range of curiosity led him into many interesting side projects. Most notable: his interest in opera and resulting collaborations with Spanish star, Montserrat Caballe. Her heartfelt memories of their work together is among this documentary's high points.

Also, there was a solo album, "The Great Pretender." The choice to cover that song says a lot about what Mercury thought about his life. It's notable that director Rhys Thomas felt it an equally apropos title for this film.

If Queen meant anything to you growing up like it did to me (we were a legion of millions here at one point), you owe it to yourself to see 'The Great Pretender.'
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2012
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
REVEALING, OPEN and UNEDITED look at what made FREDDY MERCURY "tick" and a GLIMPSE of what COULD HAVE BEEN. Many interviews with Freddy, himself. Witness the growth and evolution of the man and performer. Many interviews with his friends and confidants and colleagues. VERY GOOD. I LOVED IT.
His passion for opera was realized just before his death. His ventures into work outside of QUEEN are brought to light. He was, truly, an amazing Man and ARTIST. His LEGACY is EXTENSIVE and LEGENDARY, and he had a MONUMENTAL and ENDURING effect on the music industry. His MUSIC TOUCHED THE WHOLE WORLD. FREDDY MERCURY IS (WAS) A STUNNING, BREATHTAKING TALENT.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2012
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
I've loved Queen since I was 11 years old.

Freddie Mercury and what he stood for was the first thing I ever believed in on my own and contrary to my parents beliefs.

I really enjoyed this documentary... Freddie will always be an enigmatic figure, but it was nice to get a little glimmer of insight in to his life. I wish there was more footage from Brian and Roger talking about Fred, but still - very pleasing for a long time fan.
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