film review: Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010)

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Rush Beyond The Lighted Stage - Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil PeartIt was with surprising lack of trepidation that I wandered into Cineworld on Monday 7th June for the one night only showing of the new Rush documentary, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage. As we passed the bar I couldn’t help but notice it was awash with stringy ponytails and tour t-shirts. Not quite the usual Cineworld crowd. This was a special night for some and I kinda felt like I should feel like I was gatecrashing.

I didn’t really know much about Rush. There are a couple of things I do know though… I know there are three of them, they’re Canadian, that they’re basically a prog rock band and I can recognise Geddy Lee’s voice – but that’s fairly moot since it’s not like you ever really hear them on the radio. On the other hand I keep getting the intro from Spirit of Radio mixed up with Wolfmother’s The Joker and the Thief and I can only name two albums out of their 19 or so albums… so I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fan…

…How or never though, I love going to the cinema and I enjoyed the previous film from the pairing of Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen – a documentary following a little band called Iron Maiden… but mainly I was going along because Griffpics is a massive fan and it was his birthday. Feeling quite removed from the fair amount of excitement around the place, I figured this was probably as close to a Rush gig as you’ll get in Ireland. It was probably the largest gathering of Rush fans in Ireland for a while anyway…

For those who don’t know and haven’t clicked the wikipedia link yet, Rush are probably one of the biggest band you’ve never heard of. In the US their album sales put them in the region of Nirvana and the Bee Gees [1] and estimates put their worldwide sales around 40 million albums. They are cited as an influence and admired by many musicians in well known bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, Tool, Queensr├┐che, Tenacious D, Smashing Pumpkins… etc. The film features quite a few of these famous fans but mainly it charts the history of Rush, from their start in Geddy Lee’s basement in mid-late 1960s to their Snakes and Arrows tour which ended in 2008.

It seems they’ve had quite a sparkling 40 year journey. Rush have had their dark times, very dark times, however the film is mainly looks at the evolution of the band through their various landmark albums. It was actually pretty interesting, even for someone who didn’t know much of their music. Sebastian Bach popping up from time to time was particularly hilarious, what’s up with that guy? I mean ok, he really loves Rush but seriously… what’s up with him?

What made it interesting was… well put it this way, some bands just seem to do the same thing over and over again. They find a winning formula and stick to it. Not Rush. Ok, all their stuff is in the same kind of vein but they really do seem to have experimented over the years, brought took their cue from what was going on in the scene and made it their own. As far as I’m concerned that’s something to be admired. And what was most fascinating is that it’s really worked for them. I’m sure that some of their albums that didn’t do as well as others, but they’ve built up such a devoted following that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that they never get played on the radio; it doesn’t matter that – when they featured in last year comedy I Love You, Man – some people wondered if they were even a real band, all that matters really is that their fans love their music.

But I digress, back to the film. As a documentary… well… while I did find it entertaining, it wasn’t brilliant. To me it was very much a fan’s film. It was very general – I guess they did have a long time period to cover but I don’t feel like I learned that much about the band… aside from, as I mentioned, how they got from one album to another. It didn’t particularly delve into great detail about about any kind of criticism of the band. Fair enough, but it also didn’t really look in any detail at how they’ve influenced music, or even at other aspects of the band, like their live performances or their playing style (aside from a bit about Neil Peart changing his drumming style). It also didn’t look that much at the context of the albums, it mentioned things in passing but again, hardly any detail. I can’t even say that we got to know the band members.

It was a pity because I’d like to know more about them, or at least about other aspects of their music, and I don’t know if they would let a film crew would have that kind of access again. They seem to be fairly private, which is fine, but any in-depth documentary would really need their input to make it worthwhile. I do think there’s an opportunity there for more documentaries and I hope someone makes one because, personally, I think there’s a lot to be said about them… Then again, they seem content and successful without much publicity so maybe it’ll never happen.

The idea of the film was a sound one but, as a person who didn’t know much about Rush, I just don’t think it really worked. I would, however, recommend it to anyone who does want to know a little more about the band… but mainly because I don’t know how else you’d find out more about them without doing a hell of a lot of reading and listening.

6/10, but not because of the subject matter!

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