Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story of the Singer’s Journey From Zanzibar to Stardom

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?

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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