DVD Review: Queen - "Days of Our Lives"

DVD Review: Queen - "Days of Our Lives"
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All Access Review: A

Striding slowly across the stage in 1986, draped in a royal velvet robe with a gold crown on top of his head, Freddie Mercury, his head slightly tilted back, certainly bore a regal countenance. Preening to a packed stadium crowd, his arms spread wide in an ostentatious display of kingly arrogance, Mercury addressed his subjects, numbering in the thousands. As the waves of adulation began to subside at one of Queen’s final concerts, Mercury, laughing and smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world, playfully places the crown on Roger Taylor’s head, as if abdicating his throne. To everyone, he looked as healthy as a horse. In secret, Mercury was already battling AIDS, and perhaps on some level, he knew then that he was inescapably doomed.
“I think he had an idea that he was not terribly well,” says Taylor, in between shots of the exultant audience, their arms raised to heaven in praise of Queen and the extravagant, theatrical rock and roll spectacle they were about to witness. That bit of foreshadowing from Taylor sets the stage for a moving narrative on Mercury’s last days and the touching elegy for this electric performer that encompasses much of Episode 2 of “Days of Our Lives,” an authoritative, engrossing and emotional two-part DVD documentary on Queen released on the last day of 2011, the 40th anniversary of Queen’s birth. “Days of Our Lives” originally aired in May on BBC in the U.K. over two nights. The DVD release, also available on Blu-Ray with loads more (almost an hour’s worth of interviews and additional scenes) bonus material, includes Episodes 1 and 2, plus a clutch of seven newly created videos for some of Queen’s greatest hits and deleted footage that make for absolutely essential viewing.
It’s a ripping yarn, this tale. Told chronologically by longtime fans Rhys Thomas and Simon Lupton, with Matt Casey directing, “Days of Our Lives” neatly cleaves Queen’s career in two parts, the first spanning 1970-1980 and the second picking right up where The Game leaves off, forging straight on through the inner turmoil of Hot Space and Mercury’s tragic death, and then arriving in the present, where Mercury’s shadow still looms over the lives of the three remaining members. New interviews with Taylor and Brian May, who are both refreshingly open and honest about the excesses and infighting that threatened to destroy Queen, form the core of “Days of Our Lives” – interestingly, bassist John Deacon, considered by many to be Queen’s secret weapon, is conspicuous by his absence, his contributions limited to found interview footage from long ago. Their commentary, so engaging and revealing, is patched in smartly amongst seemingly hundreds of clips of blazing, visceral concert video – including glorious Live Aid and Wembley Stadium triumphs, and South American soccer arena blowouts, with May and Taylor, as well as other Queen insiders, reliving the tension and fear arising from their appearance in totalitarian Argentina – and an abundance of other archival footage, much of it rare and unreleased. From the scandalous “Bicycle Race” promos featuring nude women bikers pedaling their ten-speeds to scintillating TV performances (starting with the band’s first-ever “Top Of The Pops” appearance from 1974, which hasn’t been seen since then – remembered with mixed feelings by May and Taylor), scrapbook black-and-white stills from their youth, piles of interview material and vintage behind-the-scenes film culled from video shoots, “Days of Our Lives” proves to be the ultimate Queen scrapbook, lovingly compiled and artfully arranged to serve a captivating story.
“Days of Our Lives” would be an incredibly vital collection for all that alone were it not for the wealth of colorful anecdotes strewn throughout its well-ordered contents. By turns devilishly funny – as when former manager John Reid recalls walking out on Mercury in a restaurant over an interview he did without Reid’s consent, and Mercury responding by throwing a brick through Reid’s window and telling Reid, in no uncertain terms, that nobody does that to him – and crushingly sad, as when Taylor tears up remembering when he heard that Mercury had died, the documentary is an illustrious history, not given to hyperbole but ever conscious of Queen’s magnificent accomplishments. Rummaging through the past, “Days of Our Lives” thoroughly vets all of Queen’s highs and lows, from the controversial Sun City performance in a South Africa still segregated by Apartheid to the gross financial mismanagement that nearly sunk them early on and ultimately, winding up with the bittersweet catharsis that was the tribute concert for Mercury. Fascinating stories abound, including the revelation that Deacon forgot the memorable bass line he’d created for “Another One Bites The Dust” when the band went out for pizza. And, of course, there are the many remembrances of Mercury the man, courageous in the face of a terminal disease and a wildly creative workaholic right up to the very end, as he tried valiantly to squeeze in as many recordings as he could for Queen before passing on. 
Sharply edited so that every scene has an impact, “Days of Our Lives” runs along at a pace that is quick but not hurried. The story of how Smile morphed into Queen is fleshed out with just enough detail to whet appetites for what’s to come, and from there, “Days of Our Lives” segues seamlessly into the making of Queen I and II, tracking Queen’s early stages of growth and development with surprising candor, humor and historical truth. On the cusp of a breakthrough, Queen kicked down the door with Sheer Heart Attack, and the sophisticated artistry that designed “Killer Queen” is dissected with scientific curiosity. The remainder of “Days of Our Lives” walks that fine line between entertainment and information delivery with relaxed confidence and clarity of vision, all while somehow controlling a gushing geyser of details related to Queen’s recording sessions – particular attention being paid to the groundbreaking multi-tracking techniques and choral-like blending of voices that sounded so angelic on “Somebody to Love” and a bevy of signature Queen tracks – and other key moments in the band’s tumultuous life.
Billed as “the definitive documentary of the world’s greatest rock band,” “Days of Our Lives” is all that and more. And while it is slightly less audacious than Mercury was onstage, it does capture all the pomp and circumstance that made Queen a stadium-rock sensation – for proof, see the deft shuffling of clips of “One Vision” brought to life through May’s cutting riffs and Mercury’s spine-tingling vocals. At Live Aid, Mercury was in rare form, whipping the masses into a writhing, joyous state of ecstasy that threatened to lift Wembley off its foundations. He truly was rock royalty, and so was the classic Queen lineup. Guaranteed to blow your mind, “Days of Our Lives” is that rare video biography that’s both grounded in reality and a completely transcendent experience. Somewhere, Freddie Mercury is smiling. 

- Peter Lindblad

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