Judge Brett Cullum sees a little silhouetteo of a man.
I'm just a poor boy from a poor family.
Queen was a magical group that should have never worked, especially in the mid-'70s when arena rock ruled the airwaves. Fronted by a gay lead singer given to Broadway theatrics, possessing a tendency to layer big production elements in the studio, and blessed with a penchant for mixing opera and pop with crunching guitars, Queen was everything '70s rock was not. The group's fourth album, A Night at the Opera, cemented them as music royalty, with tracks like "Bohemian Rhapsody," "You're My Best Friend," and "The Prophet's Song." They were shooting for the kind of eclectic mix of songs found on classic Beatles albums like Rubber Soul. For the album, Queen invented new recording techniques, and revolutionized the recording industry. Every member of the group wrote songs and had a hand in the production. These were four guys who railed against stereotypical rhythm and blues influences to broaden musical horizons. They used waltz tempos, soaring arias, and piano flourishes to round out something uniquely excessive and accessible in a new way. Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Brian May, and Freddie Mercury all contributed equally to making A Night At The Opera, an essential album that belongs in every serious music collector's library.
Queen: The Making of A Night At The Opera is an outstanding documentary featuring current and archival interviews with the band, its technical collaborators, and its peers in the music industry. It is structured to examine each track in depth from start to finish. Not only do you get tons of in-the-studio footage, but a treasure trove of live footage accompanies and punctuates the package. This Classic Albums series was seen on television, but the DVD includes almost an hour of footage that had been excised from what was broadcast. After this presentation, you'll be able to name each instrument Queen used on the album, and explain how they mixed the damned thing. If you never produced a major label recording in the '70s, you'll be astonished at how arduous the process is.
One thing that haunts this entire project is the absence of lead singer Freddie Mercury, who passed away in November of 1991. Much is made of his sexuality, and how it influenced works like "Bohemian Rhapsody," which is assumed to be about Mercury's struggle with his identity. Pity we couldn't get Freddie's own take on his contributions to the album. He's sorely missed here, but the remaining three members honor his memory quite well. Also, archival footage of him rounds out parts where his voice is needed. But the interesting thing about Queen: The Making of A Night At The Opera is how it shows Mercury was not a solo act at any point of the album. He would lay down a basic skeleton of an idea, and the other three would flesh it out. Queen was always a collective, even when one of them wrote the song.
The visual presentation varies, as documentaries often do, depending on the source material. Some of it looks mastered from fading video elements, but that is to be expected. This is an attempt to preserve footage in the best possible medium, but much of it originated before digital techniques. The sound is basic stereo, which is true to the album and does not betray the work the band put into a traditional two-channel mix. It's all very authentic, even if the technology is limited on the DVD format. Extras include excised footage from the special along with more snippets of further performances and videos when available. My only gripe is we never get a song delivered in its entirety—you'll have to run back to your CD to hear the whole song.
If you're a music junkie who loves knowing how albums were made, then you'll be in heaven. Fans who just want to hear an album may find this daunting, and should opt for a Queen video collection instead. This is fascinating stuff, and I applaud Eagle Vision for putting this series out there for the consumer. I've never felt so educated about one of my favorite albums, and now I can assault everyone with useless Queen trivia. I live for that! Now my only wish is that these guys produce a documentary for the soundtrack for Flash Gordon, so that we can see how Queen ended up making all those incredible themes like "Flash! AH-AHHH! Savior of the Universe!."
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