Thursday, June 13, 2019

‘Rocketman’ celebrates creativity unleashed

“Rocketman” (2019). Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Stephen Graham, Charlie Rowe, Tate Donovan, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor, Tom Bennett, Sharmira Harrower, Ophelia Lovibond, Celinde Schoenmaker, Rachel Muldoon. Director: Dexter Fletcher. Screenplay: Lee Hall. Web site. Trailer.

The creative spark within each of us longs to be released. But that typically doesn’t happen until we give it the catalyst it needs to free itself, something we generally don’t supply until we recognize exactly what’s required for that to happen. Sometimes it even calls for elements and influences that we might ordinarily think would be highly unlikely for achieving success. Nevertheless, when these components come together, they can truly work magnificent wonders, a synthesis depicted in the entertaining and inspiring new musical biopic, “Rocketman.”

Young Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley) led a quietly challenging life while growing up in London’s Pinner neighborhood in the 1950s. As the often-ignored, often-criticized only child of a frequently absent military father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), and a self-absorbed mother, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), Reggie struggled for any attention and affection he could muster, most of which came from his doting, live-in grandmother, Ivy (Gemma Jones). Unlike Reggie’s parents, Ivy could see that her grandson was gifted, even if a bit shy and withdrawn. That became apparent when the young lad showed a natural aptitude for music, most notably playing the piano and being able to compose beautiful melodies virtually spontaneously. His skills were so adept, in fact, that he soon earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

Given the development of his talent, Reggie hoped that it would earn him the recognition from his father that he so craved, especially since Stanley was an avid music lover. Unfortunately, Dad continued to ignore and criticize his son as he always had, maintaining the distance that had long existed between them. What’s more, when Stanley learned that Sheila was having an affair with another man (Tom Bennett), he left for good. Fortunately, though, Reggie’s abilities continued to develop in his father’s absence. And, as the reserved tunesmith became a teenager (Kit Connor), he began taking an interest in a style of music that would change his life – rock ʼn roll.

As a young adult (Taron Egerton), Reg and a group of friends formed a band called Bluesology, successfully landing a series of  gigs playing backup for American artists like the Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles on tours of the U.K. But, despite the steady work, he grew restless, wanting to break out on his own, something he was at last able to do in 1967, when Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe) of Liberty Records introduced Reg to an aspiring lyricist, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). And, in a move aimed at boosting his charisma, the pianist decided to change his name to something more captivating. Reggie Dwight thus became Elton John, a name that would soon become synonymous with pop music.

Elton and Bernie had a great chemistry from the outset. The songwriting duo joined forces with Dick James (Stephen Graham) of DJM Records, a curmudgeonly music industry pro who expected much but knew that pushing his new talent would pay dividends, as it did with the release of the singles “Border Song” and “Your Song” in 1970. James also helped arrange a live concert at the legendary Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, a performance that set the audience – and Elton’s career – on fire.

The young rocker was an instant success, but not just on the stage. Elton soon met John Reid (Richard Madden), an up-and-coming music manager/promoter who would revolutionize his new client’s career. With a string of hits like “Rocketman,” “Crocodile Rock” and “Daniel” and successful concert dates featuring fabulously flamboyant costumes and outrageous stage antics, Elton’s popularity grew by leaps and bounds. More than that, though, as Elton’s love interest, Reid helped the pop star become comfortable with his sexuality, something that he struggled with for years. Even though Elton was not yet ready to come out as a gay man, he was at least finding satisfaction in ways that had always seemed to elude him.

[caption id="attachment_10772" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Taron Egerton gives a signature performance as music icon Elton John in the superb new biopic, “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

With Reid’s assistance, Elton became a musical phenomenon, soaring to super-stardom in the ʼ70s. However, the pressure of success gradually took a toll. Elton soon became hooked on alcohol and a variety of other recreational substances, most notably cocaine. He also became an out-of-control shopaholic, spending lavishly at every turn. And, if that weren’t enough, he began to see that he was partnered to a philanderer who showed little genuine interest in him, using Elton as little more than a meal ticket.

Elton’s life began to spiral downward as he descended into a life of addiction and sexual compulsion. He desperately tried to drown his disappointment over the breakdown of his relationship, as well as bury a variety of unresolved issues from his upbringing, many of which spurred problems with anger management and eventually led to a suicide attempt. He also struggled with trying to stay in the closet, attempting to cover himself by pursuing a short-lived unsuccessful marriage to his friend Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker). And, as he descended into this deepening personal nightmare, his circumstances began to negatively impact the relationships that mattered most to him, such as his friendship and collaboration with Bernie.

With so much at stake, Elton realized he had to get clean, to vanquish his personal demons, which included all of the foregoing, as well as a bout with bulimia. But was it too late? Could he overcome the issues that had taken him so far down – and so far away from his true self? That’s what the rocketman had to find out for himself.

[caption id="attachment_10773" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Long-time collaborators Elton John (Taron Egerton, right) and Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, left) launch a storied career in director Dexter Fletcher’s latest release, “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

At the time Elton bottomed out, his life was a mess, and, ironically, that’s where the film actually starts out, telling his story through a series of flashbacks intercut with scenes from group therapy sessions in which he bares his soul. It was a painful process for someone who seemingly had it all. But, if he was going to get clean, he had to discover how he got that way in the first place, an unraveling process that required him to get in touch with his deepest and innermost feelings.

This is a process not unlike what’s involved in becoming proficient with the practice of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Since these intangible building blocks are powerful tools for constructing the existence around us, we need to be aware of what they are and how we employ them, for they’re capable of bringing us tremendous success or horrendous heartache. As Elton found out, they truly can do both.

From an onlooker’s viewpoint, most of us would probably say that the fame and fortune he attained is enviable. Who wouldn’t want a life like that? At the same time, though, many of us would also likely wonder why he drew the profound heartache into his life that nearly cost him everything. Why would anyone want to experience such nightmares?



[caption id="attachment_10774" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Supportive grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones, right) and self-absorbed mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard, left) witness the rise of their future rock star son, Elton John, in “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_10775" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Frequently absent father Stanley Dwight (Steven Mackintosh) missed out on much of his superstar son’s upbringing as depicted in the musical new biopic, “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

However, as is the case with anyone who practices conscious creation, our reasons are our own, and, frankly, they’re no one else’s business. Many of us may even engage in this process without being aware of doing so, as could well be the case here. Nevertheless, given that this discipline makes any potential outcome possible, we can use it for materializing wide-ranging results, including everything from exultant joy to the pit of despair. And, based on what happened in Elton’s life, he would appear to have experienced both ends of the spectrum.

One might ask, “What would be the value in engaging in such extremes?” Again, the reasons are each our own, but, in many cases, they have to do with learning particular life lessons that aid in our overall personal growth and development. For instance, in becoming accomplished as a composer of music that reflects many different moods, perhaps Elton needed to experience them all firsthand in order to identify with them, to provide himself with the emotional inspiration needed for translating these feelings into finished melodies. Indeed, would he have been able to write the music for such melancholic pieces as “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” or “Candle in the Wind” had he not felt the sadness associated with the emotions behind these works? Likewise, could he have composed an uplifting, toe-tapping hit like “I’m Still Standing” had he not gone through personal travails and managed to triumphantly survive them?

This notion is important not only for examining his body of work, but it’s also a crucial narrative device employed to carry the story in the film. In many ways, “Rocketman” is actually a movie musical that tells Elton’s life story through his many diverse compositions, the pieces strategically interspersed to mirror the events and moods he experienced over time. In that regard, this truly is an example of art imitating life, in large part because that life arises from the metaphysical artist within us, the portion of our being that creates with the brush strokes of our beliefs onto the rich and colorful canvas of existence.

[caption id="attachment_10776" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Self-serving manager/promoter John Reid (Richard Madden, right) frequently ran afoul of music industry professionals like Dick James (Stephen Graham, center) and even his own client and life partner, Elton John (Taron Egerton, left), as seen in “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

Elton’s story also inspires us by showing how we can use our personal creative power to break through the perceived limitations that hold us back from living our destiny. The controlling nature of Elton’s parents, for example, no doubt helps to explain his reserved nature while growing up. Out of fear of ridicule, he consequently retreated within himself, bottling up his considerable talent for years. Those abilities remained dormant, just waiting for the right moment to be liberated. And, when he finally gave himself permission – thanks to Ivy’s encouragement and the impetus of his own beliefs – to let those talents out, they came rushing forth in a torrent of creativity and flamboyancy. With his vision thus unleashed, he was free to let it take him places that he may have once thought unimaginable – and to bring him success beyond his wildest dreams.

That creative liberation spilled over into areas of his life other than his music. It made its presence felt in his personal life, particularly in the area of his sexuality. Even though he struggled for years to publicly acknowledge his true orientation – something that many gay men and women of the time wrestled with – he nonetheless allowed himself to act on his feelings and explore what they could offer him. This was not an easy feat in light of the constant chiding he experienced about the prospect, even into young adulthood, including by those who supposedly loved and cared about him. (His mother, for example, claimed she knew he was gay from the time he was a child but never encouraged him to act on it for fear that he would end up leading a lonely life and never be loved “properly.”) And, despite Elton’s admission during his therapy sessions to being a sexual compulsive, he still overcame the fear-based belief limitations that had held him back from being himself and subsequently finding true love (something, by the way, that came his way after getting clean, Sheila’s caustic cautions notwithstanding).

Through his many experiences, Elton also learned the power of co-creation, the act of collaborating with kindred spirits to birth wondrous manifestations. This is best seen in his work with his songwriting partner Bernie. It’s also apparent in his joint ventures with other musicians, such as John Lennon and Kiki Dee (Rachel Muldoon), with whom he had a huge hit in the Motown-esque duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in 1976. Indeed, it’s truly amazing what we can achieve when we’re all on the same page.

[caption id="attachment_10777" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Ever flamboyant, pop icon Elton John (Taron Egerton) led a lavish lifestyle during his meteoric rise to stardom as seen in “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

Thanks to our remarkable manifestation powers, creativity is a force that’s ultimately difficult to contain. When fueled by our beliefs (especially those that are heartfelt and clearly focused), the process can yield results that exceed expectations, no matter what the milieu of expression and even when it seems we’ve passed the point of no return. Elton John’s life story shows us this and has a rollicking good time doing so. Let’s hope we have the wits to jump on our own bandwagon and do the same for ourselves.

“Rocketman” wins big on every front. Director Dexter Fletcher’s lavish biopic hits all the right notes from start to finish. Its inventive song-based approach to this character study adds punch to the storyline, playing like an old-style musical, one that actually works in a contemporary cinematic landscape largely devoid of this genre due to stale or forced releases (that’s saying a lot considering my general dislike of this genre). But, then, that’s been made possible by the film’s carefully chosen song list, one that contains many recognizable, eminently likable tunes (it’s hard to believe that one artist wrote so many classic works). These strengths are further enhanced by a superb production design, featuring sets and costumes whose assignments had to have been dreams come true for the professionals who created them.

Of course, none of this would have worked were it not for the positively outstanding performance of Taron Egerton, an Oscar-worthy portrayal if there ever were one. The rising star may well have cemented his future with this role, disappearing into the character so much that it even convinced his real world counterpart that he was watching himself on the screen. In addition to his portrayal of the legendary rocker, Egerton does all his own dancing and singing, sounding almost indistinguishable from the protagonist himself. This is a truly magnificent performance.

It should come as no surprise that “Rocketman” has drawn more than its share of inevitable comparisons to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), the Academy Award-winning biography of pop star Freddie Mercury, the longtime front man for the rock band Queen. True, both films tell the life stories of famous pop musicians who shared many traits in common, including sexual orientation, substance abuse and their manager. True, both pictures follow their meteoric rise during the ʼ70s and ʼ80s. And true, both movies feature the involvement of filmmaker Fletcher (even though his contributions to “Bohemian Rhapsody” weren’t widely publicized). However, that’s where the similarities end. The storytelling approach used in this film, for example, is completely different from its cinematic cousin. And, obviously, the story itself is all its own. While it’s tempting to see the parallels between these two pictures, in all fairness, viewers should not think of them as cookie-cutter copies of one another; that’s simply not accurate.

In the end, the life we create truly is a sum of all of its parts, no matter how seemingly incongruous and implausible they might initially appear. Because of that, we should take nothing for granted, for we may not always know what’s behind what shows up in our existence, regardless of whether we purposely drew such elements to us or whether they strike us as random, out of character or unexpected. Those elements could well combine to bring us what we secretly (or perhaps even unknowingly) desire most. Such circumstances truly could enable us to rocket to success. Just ask Elton John.

Copyright © 2019, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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