I am not the world's biggest Rush fan.
Don't get me wrong, I've always enjoyed Rush but I've always been more of a "greatest hits" Rush fan then a must own every album fan.
But when I saw the trailer for the new documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage from Scott McFayden and Sam Dunn, I knew that it was something I wanted to see.
McFayden and Dunn are the duo behind two of my favorite documentaries over the past few years, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Global Metal. I was curious to see their take on a band I had a bit of interest in, their doc on Iron Maiden "Flight 666" was pretty decent and that was a band I had no interest in at all but their skills as film makers brought Maiden into such a light that I enjoyed it beyond my lack of musical interest.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is damn near perfect.
The film goes through Rush's career starting from the moment Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson meet in Willowdale, Ontario and right up until their latest tour. As far as I can figure, there is nothing skipped or overlooked in the documentary. McFayden and Dunn even managed to find footage of Rush's very first show. We follow the band from the early days with drummer John Rutsey to when Neil Peart was brought on board. From the ups and downs of record sales, the indifference or down right hatred of critics to the adulation of Rush's hardcore fans and Neil Peart's family tragedies, not many stones are left unturned.
In fact, one of the more interesting portions of the film deals with what is referred to as the "Neil Peart Cold Shoulder". If you've ever been around the Toronto music scene in any sort of long term capacity (played in it, know people who play in it, etc, etc), you've heard about it. I've heard comments from various friends and associates ranging from "shy" to "aloof" to "asshole". Given the overall positive nature of Beyond the Lighted Stage, this might have been a topic the film makers could have shied away from and no one would really blame them. But to their credit, they confront it with Neil himself and by the end of the segment you get it. He's just not particularly comfortable with the whole fame thing.
I also really enjoyed how Beyond the Lighted Stage goes through the various transitions in Rush's sound. It was great to see the different reactions from different people about the changes. It seems that each band member has a different take on which album solidified the "Rush sound" and it was cool to hear that expressed. Along with that I loved hear for the famous fans about which albums they liked and the juxtaposition of having a clip from Tim Commerford (Rage Against The Machine) saying he became less interested in the band when they started heavily using keyboards followed by Trent Reznor talking about when the keyboards came in he got more interested in the band. It's this type of balanced treatment that grabbed my attention in the movie.
The film itself is a wonderful feast of a documentary. Archival film footage, photo montages, video footage, concert footage, candid stuff, driving around the old neighborhood, interviews with the band members, their parents, fans, famous fans (Jack Black, Les Claypool, Trent Reznor and a host of others), Dunn and McFayden use every trick in the book during the film to make it interesting and it works beautifully. Everything is great to watch and despite the fact that all of these different tools are used, it never seems too busy. The timing of the film is very well done. Serious points are dealt with but Sam and Scott seem to know the perfect moment to drop in a piece of humor without making any serious point seem frivolous.
Speaking of which, the guys in Rush are really funny. Who knew?
Usually when I do a review, I tend to point out all of the good points and then point out the bad or what I would change. As you might have picked up, there is no bad in this film (at least from my point of view). It is well paced, interesting, funny and an overall joy to watch.
What would I change, being the backseat filmmaker that I am?
I thought about it good and hard on my way back from the screening and every suggestion I had, I shot down. I would have liked to seen more of Trent Reznor and some of the other interviewees but at the same time that's just a personal bias and wouldn't have fit the film at all so scratch that. The only thing I could come up with, that was in anyway sort of valid is you don't see any real interviews with all three members of Rush. We see a lot of them separately or Geddy and Alex doing interviews and Neil by himself but the trio are very rarely in the interview portions together. But thinking about it, there is a very good chance that it would have interrupted the incredibly smooth flow that Beyond the Lighted Stage posses so let's throw that idea out for a DVD extra.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is a terrific documentary and surpasses what Dunn and McFayden have done before in both technical and thematic senses. I went in as someone who wasn't a huge Rush fan and left as someone who wants to listen to everything Rush has ever done. More importantly, I left wanting to see the film again. And take my Dad. And my friends. And my neighbors.
It was that good.
To put it another way, I got in to this screening for free. I will gladly pay money to see it again whether that be in theaters or on DVD.
And to Scott and Sam (on the off chance they read this), at the Q&A session after the movie, you mentioned that you might be knocking on AC/DC's door for your next film project... If I give you fourteen bucks now, can you guarantee me a ticket for the first screening? I know it might not be for a few years but after watching this, I'm pretty sure it'll be worth the wait. (and if AC/DC blows you off, Nine Inch Nails please!)
For screening news on Beyond the Lighted Stage, check out Banger Films official blog . It seems to be the most up to date resource for release dates.
Special Thanks goes out to our good friend Jeff Woods of Legends of Classic Rock fame who went above and beyond the call of duty (listen to his show! I mean it! I have a shovel and a large trunk and I'm not afraid to use either of them!) and Anthem Entertainment Group.