DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010) dir. Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen


By Alan Bacchus

Being a Canadian male I grew up listening to and knowing about Rush since birth. Until my teenage years I hated Rush, the piercing high pitched vocals from Getty Lee, the complicated overly produced instrumentation was distasteful. But then as my taste in music broadened with my own maturity, I somehow became in sync with the music. What seemed like nails on a chalkboard before, suddenly lyrical and supremely rockin’.

At the helm of this documentary are the heavy metals gurus of cinema Sam Dunn and Scot Fadyen whose Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Global Metal and Iron Maiden: Flight 666 showed surprising intelligence and analysis of the genre of heavy metal music. So it was inevitable this film would get made by them.

Heavy metal is a genre which has always produced the most loyal fans in music. If you love heavy metal in high school, odds are you were unpopular in school. It’s no exception either with Rush, who has always will be a love or hate it band, but with enough lovers around the world for them warrant a documentary about their career.

Their journey, which is told us in traditional documentary fashion, charts their careers from their childhood days in Toronto in the 60’s to the rise of their career in the 70’s to the peak in the early 80’s and beyond.

The filmmakers are so reverential to the music the lack of traditional cinematic conflict doesn’t inhibit the film from being feature-worthy. We learn about the upbringing of the band’s founders, Getty Lee and Alex Lifeson, both sons of European immigrants who moved to Toronto post WWII. Unlike other life stories, Lee and Lifeson had stable and supportive families. When Lee wanted a guitar, his parents didn’t have a problem with it, when Lifeson decided to quit school to form a band, it was met with some disappointment, but with genuine love, support, and a safety of another career in an autobody shop waiting back home.

Even over the course of their 30 years career, other than the firing of original drummer John Rutsey after the first album and the hiring of Neil Peart, there’s little conflict in the band. So where’s the drama in this relatively easy ride to the top?

The film isn’t so much about the rise (and fall) of a band, but the deconstruction and evolution of three men as artists. As a power trio (guitar, bass, drums), Dunn and Fadyen pay close attention and give ample screen time to the different artistic phases of the band. To compliment thi, they even break the film up into the type of roman numerical chapters their lengthy epic songs had, say, on their Hemispheres album.

There’s the hard rock stage of the early period, which includes a classic rock ‘n’ roll story of discovery by a Cleveland radio station. It’s an anecdote I’ve heard before, but which makes for a great retelling. There’s also the progressive rock era when the band’s lyrics and musicianship became more and more complex and thus alienating and divisive to its audiences. There’s the early synthesizer period of the early 80’s when the band was at its peak. And they’re even self-critical of its mid-to-late 80’s full blown synth period – the albums which most people hate.

The filmmakers adequately tie their artistic evolution to the personalities of the artists. From the beginning, the band members seem to have the music and the business first in the minds. Gene Simmons even recounts his impression of them with a funny story - when they were on tour with Kiss in the mid-70’s when Simmons and his band members were choosing the groupies to sleep with after the show, Rush always seemed return to their hotel rooms to watch TV. That’s probably an exaggeration, but indicates the congruence of the dedication to their music and their niche fans.

Like their previous efforts Dunn/McFadyen assemble a terrific roll call of influential rockers who sing the praises of Rush, and provide us the time and place context for their historical overview – Billy Corgan, Jack Black, Trent Reznor, Matt Stone, Zakk Wylde, CBS newsman John Roberts, who was a local rock reporter in the late 70s/early 80’s.

Unfortunately without the universal dramatic conflicts of cinema, for the non-Rush fans, this might just seems like nails on the chalkboard. But fans rejoice, Rush finally gets its due, the perfect comprehensive summary and examination of that humble but powerful trio from Toronto.

‘Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage’ is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada.


Unknown said...

Hey Al,

Do they make any references to Lifeson playing a cameo role in an episode of Trailer Park Boys?

Alan Bacchus said...

No. And no reference to his drunken brawl down south either where he got arrested for assault.