Compared to other mega-selling bands like say, The Beatles, the story behind Queen is not quite as widely known. Formed in London in the early ‘70s, the band was responsible for a slew of hits over the two decades or so, traversing genres from rock to opera to disco, sometimes within the same song, before singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS in the early ‘90s. Told through archival footage and interviews with two of the band’s principal members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (bassist John Deacon has quietly refused to participate in any of the band’s recent activities since retiring a few years ago), “Queen: Days Of Our Lives” is a compelling overview of the classic band’s career. The group originally formed during college as an outfit called Smile before Mercury joined up and renamed the band which would eventually go on to record a series of massive hits including “We Will Rock You,” “We Are The Champions,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” “Under Pressure” among many others.
The doc moves quickly through this early period giving only a few minutes to the members’ pre-band lives before getting right down to business. After a few brief recollections about early gigs, before we know it they’re already in the midst of recording their third album. That LP, Sheer Heart Attack was a breakthrough for the band. Featuring the hit “Killer Queen” and a more adventurous sound, it primed the way for the follow up, A Night At The Opera which contained probably the band’s defining work: “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song that the record label didn’t want to hear but ended up catapulting the band to the top of the charts. Mercury insisted the single go out unedited and only by chance did it end up sneaking on to the air through a British DJ who loved it and spun the track repeatedly one weekend until other stations began demanding it as well.
The other talking heads the band’s roadies, producers and session players interspersed with a few curious interviews with writers from various rock magazines like NME who trashed the band at the time (and whose opinions don’t seem to have softened much in the ensuing years). Queen isn’t really a controversial band today, pretty much everybody likes at least a few of their singles, and they’re still omnipresent on classic rock radio and pop up on soundtracks and commercials. This writer first came across the band (probably like a lot of people around the same age) from the “Bohemian Rhapsody”-set opening of “Wayne’s World.” Without having any idea who this band was, what they looked like or even in what era they were active, the music (along with some Mike Myers-endorsed headbanging) sold itself. But the doc showed that at the time, they were not ever a “cool” band.
As interesting as it was to see that the band were critical punching bags for most of their career, even as they sold out stadiums all over the world, the amount of commentary given to a few rock writers takes away from time that could’ve been devoted to other things. Mercury is left as kind of a mysterious figure. None of the interviews included really dig deep to find out what really drove him from such a young age to be one of the world’s greatest frontmen or what it was like being flamboyantly homosexual during the ’70s and ’80s. Mercury may not be around today but surely interviews with his friends, family and bandmates might’ve helped to shed a little more light on what made him tick other than his pursuit of putting on a good show. It would have been nice to see some interviews with their contemporaries who adored the band despite their being “out of fashion” at the time. The film does check off the usual sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, but most of the backstage debauchery is only hinted at. This is just the facts, Jack, which may be why the doc feels a bit incomplete.
While ‘Days Of Our Lives’ hits all the highlights — recording “Bohemian Rhapsody,” their “comeback” at Live Aid, etc. — it still feels like there is so much missing here. Directed by Matt O’Casey, who is responsible for a series of television docs on famous groups including Blondie (“Blondie: One Way Or Another”), Fleetwood Mac (“Fleetwood Mac: Don’t Stop”) and The Beach Boys (“The Beach Boys: Wouldn’t It Be Nice”), the doc originally aired as a two-part special on the BBC broken up over two nights. The problem with docs of this sort is that the subject is so large, there is a feeling you’re always leaving out as much story as you’re getting. This film could’ve easily been six hours long, broken up into hour segments covering a different period in the band’s history but to condense twenty years of the band’s active history into two hours is bound to feel like skimming a great book. Like a Greatest Hits album, it’s a good place to start to get to know the band but in order to know what made them truly great, you’ve got to dig in for some deep cuts, which unfortunately this doc doesn’t. [B-]