Friday, September 21, 2012

Queen's Hungarian Rhapsody

Last night, Amy and I met up with Dave Wright, Ceil Strachna and Dave's buddy Jim to watch the limited run big screen debut of the concert film Queen - Hungarian Rhapsody: Live in Budapest '86  at the Landmark Theater in Baltimore's Harbor East.

Despite the surprisingly sparse turnout (15 people? Are there that few Queen fans around town?), I'm glad we went because seeing Queen at the top of their game on the big screen  in beautiful remastered high definition and 5.1 surround sound, and in a concert film previously unreleased to theatres (Though master collector Dave Wright had an old VHS copy, of course!) was...well, fantastic!

It was kind of weird sitting in a near-empty theater to watch stadium-rockers Queen perform before a teeming, enthusiastic audience of some 80,000 Hungarians, to whom this concert was a big deal. Here's how the Landmark web site described the historic event:

On July 27, 1986, Queen performed the largest-ever stadium concert at the Népstadion in Budapest in front of 80,000 ecstatic fans. The concert was part of the famed Magic Tour, which was the last time the band toured with lead singer Freddie Mercury. Now, this original concert film has been remastered in high definition and features many of Queen's favorite tracks—"Bohemian Rhapsody," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "I Want To Break Free" and "We Are The Champions." In addition, this special cinema event is introduced by a documentary feature that gives the inside track on events leading up to the Budapest concert. With three years to go before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this was the first Western rock concert performed in a stadium behind the then Iron Curtain. It was of such significance to the Hungarian authorities and film industry that a group of the country's top film cameramen and technicians were brought together to film it for posterity. Using archive footage from rehearsals, interviews with the band and on the road during the Magic Tour—some of which has never been seen before—this fascinating intro feature has been specially created for cinema release.
Yes, indeed. Though this screening included a 25-minute introductory documentary about the '86 tour, it was shot on grainy video and Amy said she had seen bits of it turn up in other Queen documentaries. But the actual concert footage itself featured state-of-the-art film cinematography by an all-Hungarian camera crew. I can't recall ever seeing more crisp and colorful photography in a concert film. I forgot to look at the credit listings, but I'm pretty sure this was shot on 35mm film, and it once again shows the difference between film and video (no matter how high-def it gets). Film adds another dimension that video can never eclipse.

Unfortunately, it also offered clear high-def views of something I never need to see again - specifically, Queen bassist John Deacon in those ridiculous "hot pants!" (Good thing Brian May didn't also sport some - not with his long spider legs!):

Deacon likes short shorts!
OK, a little backstory exposition now...

Amy and Dave are Queen fanatics and on Amy's advice, I purchased tickets online well in advance of the limited screening (Thursday, September 20 @ 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, September 22 @ 2 p.m.; and Thursday, September 27 @ 7:30 p.m.) - both of us thinking that the opening night would be packed with area Queen devotees. The ticket sight even advised getting to the venue 30-40 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. screening time to insure that we could be seated together.

Boy were they wrong!

Amy met me at work at 5 and we drove straight down to the Landmark Theaters, parked, and ate a delicious curry chicken and pork dinner at the Manchurian Rice Company around the corner. In the spirit of the evening, Amy wore her London map necklace (from Mud and Metal?) and her Queen Innuendo Tour jacket.

Amy isn't subtle with her "Innuendo"
Amy is a loyal royal for Queen!

We were in the Landmark Theater lobby by 6:45. Which was empty.

After validating my parking ticket, I ventured down towards the theater and saw only two people in the hall.

"Are you here for the Queen movie?" I asked a young couple.

"Yup!" the girl replied.

"Where is everybody? I though we had to get here early to beat the rush!"

We both had quizzical looks.

Later, Dave, Ceil and Jim showed up. When we finally entered the theater a little before 7:30, there were maybe 6 people there, including the young couple - who were seated in the closest seats front and center.

"Damn!" I cried, looking at them, "You got the seats we wanted - I knew we should have gotten here earlier!"

We laughed at the absurdity of the sparse crowd. All told, maybe 15 people showed up, including a backrow contingent of partiers who came in with popcorn and wine bottles. But hey, a small crowd also showed up for that legendary 1976 Sex Pistols show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, but virtually every fan in that audience went up to form a punk or postpunk band like Joy Division, The Fall, Simply Red, Buzzcocks, The Smiths, New Order, Magazine, etc.

Opening night "crowd" for Queen's "Hungarian Rhapsody": The Few, The Proud!

So there, Queen-apathetic Baltimore! Tonight's gathering were few in number but gigantic in spirit and heart!

On a final, sad coda: we left trying to remember when exactly Queen frontman extraordinaire Freddie Mercury passed away. It was November 24, 1991. Hard to imagine that this charismatic, energetic showman - gallivanting around stage, bursting with life, enjoying the roar of the European crowd - would be dead in 5 years. But he lives on and is forever young like the music and legacy of Queen, thanks to films like this. No time for losers, for he - and they - are champions of the world in Hungarian Rhapsody.

Watch the "Hungarian Rhapsody" trailer.

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