Friday, 17 August 2012

Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest '86, dir. János Zsombolyai, st. Freddie Mercury, John Deacon, Roger Taylor, Brian May

If, like me, you were born just that little bit too late to see Queen live, then I suspect this latest hi-def restoration is the closest we'll ever come to experiencing it. This remaster, it must be said, is a complete joy. If you excuse the 80s hair and dismiss the wonderful absence of pin-speckled smart-phone screens in the audience, this could pass for a live simulcast. Noteworthy too is the clarity and tone of the 5.1 mix. Now all those crazy pans, delays and phaser studio effects we know and love bounce around the auditorium along with tight and punchy LFEs. I remember destroying my Queen cassettes through overuse. The tape would become thin and warped, though admittedly, I often tried pressing rewind and play at the same time in an attempt to discover what those weird vocals were saying at the beginning of One Vision. I remember Ian Hislop on Room 101 who posited that Queen started off as these great music pioneers collating different styles and tastes, and ended up 'doing chants', in which people could 'shout mindless lyrics and feel better about themselves.' My argument isn't so much in that statement itself, but in the fact that I'm not sure Queen's stadium inclusivity is such a bad thing. We have seen, recently in London, how an arena of tens of thousands can bring their focus to bear on one, or a group of individuals, and share their elation, their energy, their desire to perform, and how the performers feed off their enthusiasm. Like the greatest theatre, it is an exchange; there are no passive participants in such an event. Watching Freddie Mercury stride and strut and belt out a note-perfect tune is physically exhausting to watch, especially with the absence of giant video-screens that nowadays flank the stage offering those in the cheap-seats (or cheap-mud) a chance to catch a glimpse of the action, it is even more remarkable to watch a man instinctively know how to fill the space, to be as big a presence as possible; running up and down the gantries, steps and catwalks isn't ego, it's a public service. We are reminded, from the concert footage, but also the documentary inserts that are interspersed throughout, breaking up the action, Mercury was an erudite and committed frontman, a flamboyant and kinetic showman, but also, most movingly of all, a quiet and softly cheeky individual. Breathtaking.