Thursday, 20 September 2012
Mercury rising: "Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest"
Freddie Mercury's virtual reappearance at the Olympics closing ceremony - a roaring success among audiences desperate for anything to interrupt the general Lennox-Sandé-Spice-Tempah drossflow - looks to have provided the impetus for the remastering of 1986's concert film Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest, a mainstay of the music VHS Top 10 charts back when we still had Smash Hits to print them. Cineastes would doubtless be a little more excited if we'd discovered the director was a young Béla Tarr, setting the classic Queen line-up to trudging hands-in-pockets through some muddy backwater, Brian May's hair unravelling only further in the harsh wind of the plains. Instead, the band plumped for one János Zsombolyai, a functionary of the then firmly Communist state's television service, which means we get utilitarian coverage of a brisk 90-minute set that opens with "One Vision" ("gimme-gimme-gimme-fried chicken"), so it's not a total loss.
As a 25-minute primer showing before the concert itself suggests, we're being transported back to that particular post-Live Aid moment where Queen could lay claim to being the biggest group in the world, having survived the twin assaults of punk and New Wave. (The broadcaster Danny Baker has claimed the former was a direct reaction not to the pomposity of prog, as is commonly assumed, but the sight of Freddie taking to the stage with flutes of champagne and a crown on.) What's more, they'd emerged with new material ("Vision", "A Kind of Magic") that would segue seamlessly into the likes of such established classics as "Under Pressure" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" without driving anyone out to the bar. (Though you could well nip out to the loo during the Highlander-derived "Who Wants to Live Forever?", a song that always merited the response "Not if I have to keep listening to this".)
Best to make clear that, despite its re-release, this is no Stop Making Sense, which hailed from a more imaginative, visionary place. As a set, it goes markedly soft in the middle: five minutes of May guitar-wanking before "Now I'm Here" only makes one glad Stock, Aitken and Waterman came about, while "Is This The World We Created?" is a slog of a Clueless Serious Song to file alongside Phil Collins's "Another Day in Paradise". Zsombolyai has less of an idea of how to film "Bo Rap" - surely a gift for creatives - than the makers of Wayne's World, and there's some dutiful filler involving band members around town: May's jaunt in a hot-air balloon is out-banalled by John Deacon's efforts to engage a shy seven-year-old in conversation. Still, you get all the call-and-response business Mercury was doing before it became de rigueur for rappers, hands are raised in the air with great frequency, and there's that piano bit at the beginning of "Seven Seas of Rhye", which is the closest this group ever got to the raw excitement of a "Pinball Wizard". Your dad, for one, will love it.
Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest opens in selected cinemas tonight.