How to explain a performer like Freddie Mercury? First you’d have to describe, in conventional terms, the thoroughly unconventional musical persona he developed as the frontman of the glam rock band Queen. Then you’d have to explain how he got there from his birth as Farrokh Bolsara, his childhood in Zanzibar — yes, Zanzibar — and his schooling in the strict, traditional British Indian environment of St. Peter’s Boarding School. In 2000’s Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story, directors Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher attempt just this, talking to those who knew Mercury well in the many ways one could know him: family members, teachers, collaborators, lovers. This in addition to dozens of brief, highly admiring comments from Mercury’s famous colleagues in both rock and flamboyance: Phil Collins, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Liza Minnelli.
By 2000, Mercury had already been dead of AIDS for nearly a decade. At the time he acquired it, the disease remained poorly understood, and anyone living as far out on the social, physical, and sexual edge as he did must have run a great risk of it. But the provocative, uncompromising Freddie Mercury of The Untold Story could never have existed without great risk, especially of the aesthetic and performative varieties. The film spends time gazing upon the drawings the young Fred Bolsara, as he was then known, made as a visual art student. Who could resist thinking of him as a kind of a visual artist all his life, one who crafted the image of Freddie Mercury, embodied this image, and ultimately became it? Only a man daring enough to create himself, after all, could possibly have been daring enough to stage the Fellini-esque birthday party we see pieces of and hear hazily remembered. Who among us feels bold enough to celebrate our own 39th with dwarfs covered in liver?