By John Curley
The concert film Queen: A Night in Bohemia features a show by Queen at London’s Hammersmith Odeon that was shot on Christmas Eve 1975 (and aired live on BBC-TV at the time). The show features the first live recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Fathom Events screened the film in theaters across the United States on Wednesday, March 8th. For the Fathom Events screening, the concert film was paired with a new 30-minute documentary that preceded it.
The documentary is excellent. It includes archive interviews with and footage of Queen members Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon as well as new interviews with May and Taylor. They discuss the band’s early struggles, their great success in Japan, and how their album A Night At The Opera changed their fortunes. The recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is discussed and outtakes of studio chatter from Mercury are heard.
May reveals that the record company wanted to cut the song so that it was shorter in order to get airplay and states that Deacon actually made an edit of the song that cut out the operatic bits. But in the end, the band decided to release the song in its original length.
Taylor states that the very popular “Bohemian Rhapsody” video was only made so that it could be aired on BBC-TV’s flagship music program Top of the Pops since the band had prior commitments and would not be able to appear on the show. He also claims that 1975 was Queen’s breakthrough year largely due to the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The live Christmas Eve 1975 broadcast by BBC-TV of Queen’s show at the Hammersmith Odeon came about after “Bohemian Rhapsody” went to number one in the UK charts and the broadcaster approached the band about adding an extra show to their run at the London venue that would be broadcast to the nation.
The documentary was very entertaining and quite interesting. I’m probably not the only audience member that wished it had been longer so that it could have covered more of Queen’s career.
The concert film opens with a terrific, hard-charging version of “Now I’m Here” that features heavy-duty guitar from May and terrific vocals from Mercury. From there, the concert film has very high highs as well as some lows. Queen was at their best when all four members of the band were fully engaged in the songs. This was evident in “Killler Queen” and particularly in “Keep Yourself Alive,” which was outstanding, the highlight of the show, and a real showcase for Mercury. And “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was performed in two parts as sections of a medley, was terrific.
The prog-rock moments were less stellar. “Ogre Battle” was over the top and boring. “Liar” was poor prog rock, although it did contain a nice vocal by Mercury. The biggest offender was probably the dry-ice fog that shrouded the stage during “In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited.” May’s guitar solo in “Brighton Rock” was drawn out and, frankly, kind of dull. It’s safe to assume that many watching the live BBC broadcast of the show in 1975 probably used May’s solo to take a bathroom break or to grab a snack from their kitchen. It was these moments in the concert that makes it easy to understand why punk rock was necessary for balance against the bloat of 1970s rock.
Queen does straight-ahead rock quite well, and this was shown in the encore that featured a medley of 1950s songs—“Jailhouse Rock,” “Stupid Cupid,” and “Be Bop A Lula.” The medley was an excessive, 1970s style ode to those early rock and roll songs. But the band was really good during the medley, May and Mercury in particular.
Queen’s strengths far outweigh their weaknesses. May, Deacon, and Taylor are all great musicians. And Mercury was one of rock’s best lead vocalists and, quite arguably, its finest showman. He was one of a kind, and irreplaceable.
Since the concert portion of the film, which runs 65 minutes, is from a 40-year-old live TV broadcast, it is grainy in spots. This is particularly true when the concert lights hit the TV cameras. The sound is great, though. Queen fans will love both the documentary and the concert film. And both are good starting points for rock fans that want to know more about Queen and to understand why they were one of the most heralded acts of their era.
The songs featured in the concert portion of the film were:
Now I’m Here
White Queen (As It Began)
The March Of The Black Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody (Reprise)
Bring Back That Leroy Brown
Brighton Rock (Guitar Solo)
Son And Daughter
Keep Yourself Alive
In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited
Jailhouse Rock Medley (incudes excerpts of Stupid Cupid and Be Bop A Lula)
God Save The Queen (plays over closing credits)