‘Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender’

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Rhys Thomas’ doc “Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender” captures the essence of the late Queen front man and music legend Freddie Mercury. An honorable portrait of a talented man who died too soon, the film is packed with a vast array of footage, ranging from live performances to in-studio sessions to interviews from a multitude of sources.

Mercury, a man with the motto “the bigger the better … in everything,” describes himself as “not a John Lennon or a Stevie Wonder,” meaning that he wrote about feelings and shied away from politics. Born Farrokh Balsara in Zanzibar in 1946, Mercury had “an upheaval of an upbringing.” At art college he realized that he wanted to make his living as musician. 

“The Great Pretender” focuses mainly on Mercury’s 1985 solo album and its 1988 follow-up – a collaboration with opera singer Montserrat Caballé. The first solo record, released on CBS (Columbia) or “cock, bollocks and satisfaction,” as Mercury puts it, was a costly commercial failure. The album was a reflection of Mercury residing in New York at the time and traveling in gay circles.

Mercury lived it up, adopting the clone look, complete with mustache, short hair and tight jeans. He could be anonymously hedonistic in NYC in ways he couldn’t be in London. Influences – good (such as disco) and bad (such as his subversive personal assistant and “partner in crime” Paul Prenter) – came into play during this time.

Despite the failure of the first solo disc, good things were happening for Mercury at the time. Queen’s 1985 performance at Live Aid was a rousing success. Mercury celebrated his 39th birthday with a bash in Munich. And during that time, he met his partner Jim Hutton. 

But the celebration was to be short-lived. Mercury’s HIV diagnosis was, at that time, a death sentence. His public betrayal in the British tabloids also took a toll on him. In typical Mercury fashion, however, he rose to the occasion with an enormous creative burst at the end of his life, including the Caballé recording and the reunion with Queen.

An incredible force of nature and presence, Mercury was, in the end, a shy person who lived with the protection of his persona and overcame everything to become a rock god. DVD bonus features include extended interviews and more.