Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for an unforgettable ride into the inter-galactic realms of Pop History with Rocketman.
Think of Elton John and you probably recall that documentary Tantrums and Tiaras in which Elton showed how much of a diva he is. Nowadays he is probably known more for his charitable work and his diva-esque qualities, than for his music. But back in the Seventies, Elton was something special and love him or hate him, you can’t deny that along his popstar journey, which inevitably descended into alcohol, drugs, bulimia and shopping, he wrote some damn fine songs.
I can recall a street party in the Seventies when my Dad dressed up as Elton. I think he’d chosen Elton because of his lack of hair at that time. He wore a purple clip on earring. We wanted my Mum to be Kiki Dee but dressing up and singing karaoke has never been her forte. My Dad was a fan of Elton John in his early days, probably more because of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. I grew up listening to Elton and he inspired me with his piano playing and ability to write a good tune. At one stage of my life I lived directly at the back of Elton John’s Old Windsor home. We’d often hang out the window on the nights of his famous White Tie and Tiara Ball and celebrity spot. We even shared the same odd-job man at one point who would always give us a bit of gossip about Elton.
I had high hopes for this film. The incredibly spectacular Bohemian Rhapsody had set the bar high for rock-biopics. Rocketman was one of the trailers prior to the Queen movie. Dexter Fletcher – he of Press Gang and Sunshine on Leith was to be the director and as far as I’m concerned, childhood crushes never fade and Dexter can do no wrong. Yet I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. Much has been made that this film is not historically accurate and there have been complaints from Elton’s family about the way in which his Mother and Father are portrayed.
However, in all honesty this film is not about accuracy and it is far from a standard biopic. Elton’s life with his love of drama and showmanship lends itself well to the musical format that this film uses. Everything is an over the top performance, and this is more like a series of music videos linked by a common theme, than a standard life-story. It’s a well-used formula. Gifted child struggles against the confines of his family and difficult relationship dynamics, to rise to un-paralled success but along the way attempts to destroy himself with addiction and upsetting those who love him most. There’s a serious message here of the perils of hiding who you are to be more acceptable to the public. For many years Elton hid his sexuality and this movie reminds us, in the same way that Bohemian Rhapsody did, of how wrong it is to make someone be who they are not.
Taron Egerton plays the lead role of Elton John and I must admit that I found him more attractive and likeable than Elton. I even preferred some of his singing and this movie uses Taron’s voice to make it more of a musical than a true biography. The film regularly bursts into colossal production numbers with Buzby Berkeley-style choreographed productions, and larger-than-life costumes. We even see Elton singing under water in a beautiful scene reminiscent of Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies. It all is so reflective of Elton himself. Why be ordinary when you can be spectacular?
Like many of Elton’s costumes, at times the action stretches the parameters of credibility. Elton’s brief marriage to Renata Blauel seems a little too glossed over and at times the characters seem to be too black or white; falling into the good and evil roles of a fairy tale. Yet Taron is supported by some great performances; Gemma Jones as his fluffy and indulgent Grandmother, Ivy, Jamie Bell as the genial Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as the brooding but sinister, John Reid and the chameleon Stephen Graham as the cigar-smoking, grasping record company executive, Dick James. There’s even a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo from Keith Lemon or Leigh Francis or whoever he chose to be that day. Similarly, if I am being over-critical, then I would suggest that I was disappointed by the ending, which merely shows Elton’s I’m Still Standing video shot in the South of France with Taron superimposed. I would have much preferred another huge production number but perhaps this was done to merge fantasy and reality. Instead I felt that the film petered out, instead of ending on a huge high.
This movie works best on the big screen. I am not sure it would translate as well onto television, but it certainly needs to be taken into the theatre and I expect this to happen soon. I enjoyed the film immensely and for me the two hours seemed to go far too quickly, with my feet permanently tapping away to the soundtrack. It has since made me revisit much of Elton’s early work and I think that this film is a huge tribute to Elton’s ability to evolve as a performer. Even if he is more Liberace than David Bowie. Overall a great movie to watch with a simple message: be who you want to be and make sure you do it with panache and above all else, plenty of sequins.
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