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Rocketman

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EW:

 

 

Bane is ready to ditch his mask for rose-colored glasses.

 

Tom Hardy has signed on to play Elton John in Rocket Pictures’ biopic Rocketman, which will be released in the U.S. by Focus Features.

 

Rocketman will tell John’s legendary story, from his childhood to his unbelievable rise to fame. John is set to re-record a number of his biggest hits to match the emotional moments in the film, which will be directed by Michael Gracey, the man behind the upcoming film The Greatest Showman on Earth starring Hugh Jackman.

 

With an original screenplay written by Academy Award nominee Lee Hall (War Horse), Rocketman is scheduled to start shooting in fall 2014.

 

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And here I was hoping this title was going to be a big-budget re-imagining of "Rocketman: King of the Rocket Men," the old Republic serial...

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I mentioned on Facebook the other day that the makers of Rocketman must be looking at Bohemian Rhapsody's enormous success (over $800 million worldwide! multiple Oscar nominations including Best Actor -- which it could very easily win -- and Best Picture!) and feeling both envious and optimistic about what that film's success could mean for their own film's prospects: Apparently there's an audience out there for 1970s-set British pop-star biopics with LGBT content!

Then a friend of mine pointed out that Rocketman is also directed by Dexter Fletcher, the guy who finished directing Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer ankled the project. So, whoa.

 

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I liked this substantially more than Bohemian Rhapsody, although it gets bogged down by some of the same narrative cliches, just not nearly as severely. I thought the incorporation of songs as a jukebox musical worked quite well and mostly made up for those flaws.

My full review: https://catholiccinephile.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/rocketman/

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Very good review.  One minor correction:  it's "Alcoholics Anonymous"; and I don't think it's necessarily an AA meeting he's attending, but a generic recovery group. 

I always appreciate your takes on musical films, given your passion and knowledge around this genre.  I felt much the same way about the film, including its relative merits next to Bohemian Rhapsody.  As someone whose adolescence coincided with the birth of MTV, I loved how the final song, though a obvious choice, was presented.

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Thanks, Andrew, and thanks for the catch. I changed it to "recovery group," since it's definitely not clear what type of group therapy it is.

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Saw this last night and--ok, yeah. I'm not an Elton John fan, even--I know the "greatest hits" and "Your Song" has a certain emotional weight for me--but I'm not really all that familiar with his deeper discography or with his life-story. So I'm not coming at this as a hardcore fan, but more as a casual observer. As far as the movie goes, pretty much every narrative beat is straight from the music biopic playbook. Patrick H. Willems did a video on this around the time Bohemian Rhapsody came out that dissects the formula pretty neatly:

All of that granted. But I really liked this one. I liked the way it tweaked the formula just a bit by centering around the support-group meeting. I liked the way the songs were staged as part of the action. I liked the imagery. Rocketman manages to avoid feeling too trite by leaning into a kind of low surrealism. It's a solid, sometimes exceptional, take on the genre. 

On another note, Jason Adams, who hated Bohemian Rhapsodypoints out an important difference between the two movies:

 

Quote

Rocketman proves what a difference having the right gay voice in the room makes. Bohemian Rhapsody probably never stood a chance, since its "right gay voice" was dead and couldn't speak for himself and his band-mates agendas were their own. But Rocketman clearly benefitted well from having Elton John around -- it is truly as gay as all get out. 

I don't just mean the kissing and the humping and the gratuitous moments galore. I mean the moments like when you go to a party with your straight friends and you end up watching them pair off and you end up being the lone 'mo wall-flowering it up beside the punchbowl. Those moments when your dad glared at you with befuddlement, incapable of even having a conversation. Rocketmanis rich with them -- I felt it time and again deep in my old gay bones.

 

 

 

Edited by NBooth

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22 hours ago, NBooth said:

 

On another note, Jason Adams, who hated Bohemian Rhapsodypoints out an important difference between the two movies:

 

Some day, perhaps, I will get around to writing my long noodled think-piece about the ways in which gay films and Christian films are ironically parallel in terms of representation. (I've been thinking about that ever since Todd Haynes's famous interview post Far From Heaven when he equated representation of gays to that of African-Americans in the '60s as embodied by Sidney Poitier. 

I haven't seen the film yet, but based on what I've heard so far, Adams is articulating the ways in which films have a harder time representing something the writer or culture is less familiar with (a sexual orientation or religion not of their own) as part of a fully-realized character who is not simply defined by that one attribute. I think that's a big reason why there are so few "incidentally 'x'" characters. In one casting documentary, I remember them making a big deal that Danny Glover's character was not written to be black in Lethal Weapon. The casting director noticed that there was nothing in the character as written that necessitated him being of one color, but she still got resistance. 

That's probably just a long way of saying is sounds like Adams is pointing out that BR (or other gay movies) are better at using standard gay tropes or markers than in thinking through the experience of specific gay characters. (Caveat: I am aware that there is, I think, some contention over whether Freddy Mercury should be called gay or bisexual, so I don't mean to get derailed into that debate.) But I also think that difficulty (ethnic/religious/sexual character tropes/markers vs. fully realized characters) isn't limited to representation of gays. 

To the extent I follow him correctly, I am also not sure I agree with Adams' contention that the difference is the presence of the "right 'x' voice" in the room. Part of it must be the talent of the writers and performers, I would think, their skill level. I suspect, for instance, there are plenty of Christian writers who have had authentic experience but, when called to write, have trouble going beyond framing those experiences in specific genre/writing conventions or tropes. I can't help but wonder if the same is true for those trying to write about the gay experience. 

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Yeah, this touches on a number of points that have (afaik) been going around in LGBTQ discourse since the '90s, at least--the problem of how, exactly, to define the "gay" or "queer" experience. Or, in another phrase, "How queer is queer?" It can get pretty divisive; I've seen people accuse Call Me By Your Name (!) of being "a gay movie for straight people" or suggest that it isn't "queer enough." An odd claim, from my perspective, but suggestive--the question is, is a movie "gay" just because it features two people of the same gender-identity falling in love? Does In & Out count as a "gay" movie? Does Rope? Certainly if I were to create a queer film canon I would include Rope and exclude In & Out, even though the latter has a character who openly says he's gay and the former does not, but what are the grounds of this distinction? Etc.

[EDIT: I'm sure you've encountered this book, but let me quickly plug In a Queer Time and Placewhich runs through the above questions w/r/t the trans experience]

Put another way, Adams isn't talking about BR and "other gay movies"--he's suggesting that BR isn't a gay movie at all. I think Adams' critique is precisely the opposite to the issue you allude to in your second 'graph. The problem for Adams isn't that Freddie isn't "incidentally gay" but that he isn't gay enough. If I understand Adams' objection to Bohemian Rhapsody, it's that Freddie's queerness is pretty much incidental--so incidental that, when they brought the movie to China, it was possible to remove all of it with the excision of a couple of minutes--and that whatever queerness is shown is seen as a source of anxiety and depression (this is Adams' critique, not mine, since I've not seen BR, which I should have noted above). Which, when you're dealing with a character so obviously and deeply queer as Freddie Mercury, seems kind of an odd choice. The thing about having the "right gay voice" is that (again, by Adams' estimation) it allows Rocketman to get at some realities of gay life that might seem obvious from within but are often not obvious from without. This argument raises the specter of "authenticity," which I think is a red herring, but it also suggests one of the ways that having (for instance) a diverse writing-room can make a piece of art stronger or more interesting.

Now, as far as the larger scope of issues you bring up--yes, there's broad similarities between Christian film and LGBTQ film (up to and including the fact that most examples of both forms are, first, produced by members of the in-group and, second, pretty terrible). I do think we could make some important distinctions regarding why filmmakers from each group (insofar as they're separate groups; I'm uncomfortable with the implicit line between "Christian" and "gay" but I'm accepting it as a generic distinction as far as film goes) make their films. There is, as you note, a hunger for representation from each group, and the respective genres fill those needs. What I'm not sure of is the extent to which the question of evangelism comes up. Christian movies have a weird thing where they're kind-of-sort-of trying to "win souls" or whatever while at the same time "preaching to the choir" because, let's face it, it's mostly Christians watching these things. Meanwhile, a gay flick like John Apple Jack seems pretty uninterested in even pretending that straight audiences exist (I imagine the same could be said for the Eating Out series, but I've never seen them). [EDIT: There's also a question of audience-expectations. The audiences for God's Not Dead, based on my Facebook feed, seem to take a tremendous amount of pleasure in being told they're right, while the audiences for most gay movies--again, based on the discourse I see online--are happy to settle for being told they're valid. I wouldn't want to insist on this latter point too strongly, though, because my personal experience is limited and idiosyncratic.]

In fact, the only time a movie with queer themes starts considering a straight audience is when it's pitched to go big like Call Me By Your Name or Bohemian Rhapsody. There may be parallels here, too, in the way (for instance) Christian themes got rinsed out of the Narnia franchise, etc. 

Anyway, sorry for the wall-o-text. Your comments just got me thinking.

Edited by NBooth

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On another note, here's Matt Zoller Seitz:

There's no possible way that a film like this could have been made in an earlier era, homophobia being what it was (and still is; it's 2019, and this is supposedly the first major studio release with an explicit gay sex scene). And yet the totality of it feels very old fashioned, from a craft point-of-view, almost as if it could've been staged and executed on the old MGM lot, right around the time that color film started being widely used. The movie was shot digitally, like nearly every other major release made these days, and yet Fletcher and his crew seem to have decided to pretend that they were working with very heavy old film cameras, relying on careful planning (and mental pre-editing) to avoid shooting more than was needed. Connoisseurs of all the different ways of staging and filming a musical number will love the smorgasbord of modes that the film operates in—everything from an acrobatic, one-take number in the spirit of "Absolute Beginners," to a more traditionally choreographed song-and-dance/chorus-line montage, to a jittery, handheld scene that feels like something out of a D.A. Pennebaker documentary from the 1960s, to a more intimate sequence expressed entirely through a simple exchange of closeups.

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16 hours ago, NBooth said:

Now, as far as the larger scope of issues you bring up--yes, there's broad similarities between Christian film and LGBTQ film (up to and including the fact that most examples of both forms are, first, produced by members of the in-group and, second, pretty terrible). I do think we could make some important distinctions regarding why filmmakers from each group (insofar as they're separate groups; I'm uncomfortable with the implicit line between "Christian" and "gay" but I'm accepting it as a generic distinction as far as film goes) make their films. There is, as you note, a hunger for representation from each group, and the respective genres fill those needs. What I'm not sure of is the extent to which the question of evangelism comes up. Christian movies have a weird thing where they're kind-of-sort-of trying to "win souls" or whatever while at the same time "preaching to the choir" because, let's face it, it's mostly Christians watching these things. Meanwhile, a gay flick like John Apple Jack seems pretty uninterested in even pretending that straight audiences exist (I imagine the same could be said for the Eating Out series, but I've never seen them). [EDIT: There's also a question of audience-expectations. The audiences for God's Not Dead, based on my Facebook feed, seem to take a tremendous amount of pleasure in being told they're right, while the audiences for most gay movies--again, based on the discourse I see online--are happy to settle for being told they're valid. I wouldn't want to insist on this latter point too strongly, though, because my personal experience is limited and idiosyncratic.]

In fact, the only time a movie with queer themes starts considering a straight audience is when it's pitched to go big like Call Me By Your Name or Bohemian Rhapsody. There may be parallels here, too, in the way (for instance) Christian themes got rinsed out of the Narnia franchise, etc. 

Anyway, sorry for the wall-o-text. Your comments just got me thinking.

No need to apologize. Your comments are interesting and on point.
I don't think I am implying a line between two genres by calling them different. Just because "Christian" and "gay" are different categories doesn't mean to imply they never overlap. If I implied otherwise, I did not mean to do so.

My shorthand for whether something is a "Christian" movie has been for the last few years whether or not it hit at least two of the following categories: by Christians, for Christians, about Christians. Obviously each of those three markers is ambiguous and problematic (or problematically ambiguous)? Does "by Christians" refer to the auteur? The entire crew? The cast? The production company? Does "for Christians" imply all Christians want the same thing? That a film is exclusively or only predominantly for that audience? 

This discussion makes me thing the three-fold test might be equally applicable (though equally problematic) for "gay" films. In particular, the question of whether the film is "for" gays may mean different things than saying a film is "for" Christians.  But maybe not. I'd argue that some movies, like God's Not Dead, are made for and marketed for Christians but take on a veneer of "evangelism" as a means of claiming that they are directed towards those outside. But even if the film is evangelical (in intention), I think it is still made fore Christians...as a film some Christians could theoretically feel good inviting others to and feel they are doing something. This is somewhat different from a cross-over hit, which, I think, means in Christian circles that it wants to be identified as a Christian film but still palatable to a non-Christian audience. A non-Christian might theoretically have reasons he/she wants to see it other than that he/she has been invited by a Christian. (I'm skeptical that, for example, The Blind Side is perceived as a "Christian" film by the non-Christians who want to see it or enjoy it, but I think that's the sort of gold-standard in the Christian cottage industry). 

I think Bohemian Rhapsody might be on the other end of the spectrum...perhaps it tries so hard to invite straight audiences that it makes it hard to say it is "for" gay audiences in any meaningful way (except maybe something they can invite their more squeamish straight friends to). It sounds like Rocketman might be more like, I dunno, Woodlawn (but better quality filmcraft)...definitely made *for* the target audience and/or putting that audiences desires and expectations first but picking a subject that is not overtly hostile to the "outsider" and may even have elements that are of interest to them...

 

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Jason Adams wrote:
But Rocketman clearly benefitted well from having Elton John around -- it is truly as gay as all get out. 

For what it's worth, I've heard that John himself wasn't deeply involved in the film -- I think he didn't even see it for the first time until Cannes? -- but his *husband* produced it, so, yeah.

And that plugs into the whole gay / Christian parallel that has come up in this thread, in a weird way. The dramatic arc of this film is that Elton John once was lost but now is found, partly through the help of the recovery group etc. It was apparently *after* he came out of rehab in the early 1990s that he met his husband, and all was well. In a weird way it's kind of like the dramatic arc of the anti-abortion drama Unplanned, which I just saw a few days ago; that film also has a "once was lost but now is found" kind of throughline, focusing almost entirely on the "troubled" part of the protagonist's life and ending with the assurance that the protagonist has found happiness and has had (or adopted, in John's case) kids since the story ended, etc.

Matt Zoller Seitz wrote:
There's no possible way that a film like this could have been made in an earlier era, homophobia being what it was (and still is; it's 2019, and this is supposedly the first major studio release with an explicit gay sex scene). 

I've heard this claim elsewhere, and I don't know what to make of it. I mean, first, I suspect the qualifier "male" should be added there; as Vito Russo pointed out in The Celluloid Closet, Hollywood seemed to have no problem with naked *women* getting it on in films like Personal Best (Warner Brothers, 1982) even while they tiptoed around men kissing in movies like Making Love (20th Century Fox, 1982). And second, um, I vaguely recall that there were actual blink-and-you'll-miss-them pornographic clips of anal sex in Williiam Freidkin's Cruising (United Artists, 1980) in addition to whatever he had the regular actors doing.

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