Biopics of the larger than life characters in the music industry have been the latest trend of films to be released. Bohemian Rhapsody’s success kicked off the release of films such as the upcoming biopic by Baz Luhrrman which will showcase Elvis Presley’s life and of course, Rocketman.
Or so it may seem. In actual fact, Rocketman has been in the works for over a decade and it was only recently that everything fell in place for the production to go ahead.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher whose previous works include Eddie the Eagle and Wild Bill, the film presents Elton John’s battle against alcoholism and drugs during his rise to fame in the seventies. Many people know what Elton John went through during this time but Dexter Fletcher was the perfect person to take on this project.
The use of drugs and alcohol in films is something that is seen so regularly within plots now that it could have been easy for him to make a sub-standard piece that would have still drawn crowds in by the thousands purely because of Elton John’s story. However, he was very careful to create such a unique experience for his audience that it should be commended, I believe, by the Academy.
Although many loved Bohemian Rhapsody, there was a lot of controversy around it which included the allegations against the director and the fact that many people believed it didn’t deserve many of the Oscar nominations that it received. We will go into Bohemian Rhapsody another day but one of the things that I believed it lacked was heart.
Whereas Rocketman has plenty of it.
Beginning with Elton’s stint in rehab, Dexter automatically throws you into the fray – clad in a flamboyantly devilish costume, Elton storms into rehab and takes a seat. Then, he begins to tell his story.
Elton is known for his flamboyance and his dramatic costumes – it’s all a part of why he is as popular as he is. And that is something that is reflected throughout the entire story. For many moments within the film, you forget that you are watching a biopic as it feels like you are watching something closer to a musical on the stage. It’s full of life, full of colour and stunning imagery.
Many times, this is to reflect how Elton was feeling during his battle against drugs. That often he would drift in and out of life and suddenly find himself somewhere else. To further emphasise how he was feeling in those moments, Dexter would put a well-loved Elton song in place to bring more depth.
He said, “I didn’t have to be a slave to the chronology of when the songs were written or what they got written about, I just used them like in a musical, in that way. And the more I exploited that opportunity, the more fantasy elements came into it, the more I would find things like ‘I Want Love,’ which happens in this sort of domestic family home, or ‘Saturday Night’s Alright,’ or ‘Rocket Man’ at the bottom of the swimming pool, the Troubadour sequence. They’re all flights of memory and feelings rather than fact.”
One of the scenes that moved me the most was Elton’s attempted suicide or the ‘Rocket Man’ swimming pool sequence that Dexter mentioned above. I have personally suffered with mental health issues for a long time and the struggle that Elton was feeling of needing help with his addiction and his depression while being surrounded by so many people who weren’t even noticing was something that resonated so deeply within me.
And with many others as has been proven by the response to Elton’s story.
At one of his parties where people don’t even notice that he is missing, he stands up on the diving board and says ‘for my next trick, I’m going to f***ing kill myself’ before dropping himself into the pool. Prior to this scene, we saw him taking a huge handful of pills washed down with vodka.
He sinks down to the pool only to find his younger self at the bottom, playing a piano and singing the intro to ‘Rocket Man’; creating one of the most beautiful and memorable shots within the film.
However, the beauty wasn’t created without struggle as it was one of the hardest scenes to shoot for those on set. Using precision with the camera’s tracking shots, Elton is pulled from the swimming pool to an ambulance to the Dodger’s Stadium where he forces a smile onto his face.
This is the perfect time to talk about Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton. Even if the film doesn’t get nominated or even win Best Picture, I would really love for him to see some reward for his performance as it is obvious that he went all in to doing justice for Elton. The pair had previously starred together on Kingsman: The Golden Circle wherein Elton had a hilarious cameo. Now, they’re thick as thieves and have created a cute friendship of love and respect.
During this particular scene, Taron had to swim down to a 15-meter tank and mouth along to the song – all while making sure that he doesn’t take in too much water and lose his breath. Fletcher said of the moment, “The amount of self control it takes on his behalf was kind of extraordinary. There was a breathing apparatus, but he’s alone down there.”
Rocketman has created a brand new formula for musicals and biopics, combining the pair while not being afraid to explore the darker topics of addiction, abuse and self-hatred all while singing bright songs.
Fletcher sums it all up by saying, “It’s not a biopic, per se, but really a story of Elton John unpacking all of his issues and baggage whilst in rehab. I think it’s about being as honest with your approach as you possibly can, and not trying to sugarcoat or hide anything. And, obviously, you can’t cover everything. We’re talking about two hours long, trying to fit in 35 years of a life, or more. So you can’t cover everything, you have to be selective.”
For those of you that didn’t get a chance to see it in the cinema, Rocketman is now available on digital.