This is the first of three blogs in which I want to break free. Break Free from the usual analysis of cinematography technique and find some flaws in a film that everyone loves.
We all know the 2018 biopic of the rise to stardom and tragic demise of Freddie Mercury. A celebration of the life, loves, music and mania of the lead singer of the band Queen. Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes for editing, sound, acting…the list goes on…although Director Bryan Singer didn’t go on (another story).
But I am not so sure. I know I may come Under Pressure for this, but Don’t Stop Me Now.
This is a movie that can’t make up its mind whether it is a documentary or a drama or a musical medley. Cinematographer Newton Sigel leaves me confused. He mashes up techniques that at one moment give us a sense of photo-journalism and at the next conjure up big dramatic Shakspearian set-pieces.
Still from Live Aid scene
The movie begins at Live Aid and flashes back furiously. Editor John Ottman contributes to the documentary feel. When interviewed he said it was critical to include clips of the Live Aid audience to bring the movie-watchers onside. At the end of the film, we are surprised to see lengthy footage of the real concert. So, this is an archive assembly job, right?
No, it’s a musical. But musicals traditionally use the music to tell the story. But not here. Of course, the songs have already been made so when they pop up to punctuate the progress, it feels like they are just there to entertain the audience. A good singalong, not advancing the story.
A period drama, maybe? In an interview with ASC, Sigel said when studying footage and performances of the time periods, he could sense a cultural shift, so he began to look for ways to express that. Sure, his use of colour and lens gets us into the mood. Sigel makes the early days of the band appear to have a particular idealistic style. He used the ARRI Alexa SXT, and old Cooke Speed Panchro lenses to make highlights appear warm and convey the drive and optimism of the band.
And since the band were yet to take off, Sigel used camera movements that feel handheld. Smart. And I like the way the street scenes have a slight tinny sound to emphasise the era of Queen.
Still from scene when Queen meet John Reid
Some would say this this film is completely carried by the energy of the lead performer. It’s why he got the Oscar. But look at the editing and you can see where the breathless pace comes from. Example: the 104 second scene when the band meet John Reid has 60 cuts (above). This leaves an average shot length of 1.8 seconds. Compare this to a fight scene in Transformers: The Last Night, where the average shot length is 2.8 seconds long. So, there we have it: the scene is cut tighter than a fight scene even though it is just people having a conversation around a table! To me the cuts are simply too fast. Editor John Ottman may have won the Academy Award, but the editing feels schizophrenic.
I know I am supposed to bow to the Academy award-winning films, but I am not convinced that it deserves its status. As far as I am concerned, Another One Bites the Dust.