9 Reviews of… Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage

rushdoc

Much like we did last year with Flight 666 when it was released, we asked our faithful HELLBOUND contributors who have already had a chance to view Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage to write us a review of their viewing experience. Here is a compendium of all the submitted reviews, listed alphabetically by the last name of the writer. We hope you enjoy these individual viewpoints on this super cool documentary film….

Review 1: Adrien Begrand

Early on in Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, there’s an absolutely extraordinary piece of archived footage, in which a 17 year-old Alex Živojinovi? emphatically explains to his incredulous parents at the dinner table why he’s chosen to drop out of grade 12 to focus on his music career. He’s completely adamant and won’t be swayed, while his mom and dad look on in disappointment, justifiably worried that their son is throwing his life away. When was the last time you saw a piece of footage like this from any band, let alone one of the biggest acts of the last 40 years? Who was filming this? Who had the foresight to actually keep this film? This clip is just one of many incredible rarities that highlight the long-awaited documentary that Rush fans have been anxiously awaiting for the past couple years, and will wind up cherishing this film just as much as their favourite albums.

Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden have already established themselves as metal’s pre-eminent documentarians thanks to the success of Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Global Metal, and Iron Maiden: Flight 666, but Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is a different beast altogether. Rather than capturing a specific moment in time on film, they’ve put together a complete career overview of a musical institution for the first time, and the duo exceeds all expectations with a documentary that’s slickly pieced together yet bears the same likeable, unpretentious quality that makes their previous three films so endearing. And they pull out all the stops in the process, interviewing every famous Rush fan they can find, from Gene Simmons, to Trent Reznor, to Kirk Hammett, to Billy Corgan, to Jack Black, painstakingly going over every era in the band’s 36 year history with the attention to detail of true fans, and cramming in every old film and TV clip they can dredge up.

That said, for all the vocal fellating the celebrity interviewees slavishly provide (Black waxes hyperbolic to an hilarious degree), more than anything else Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and Neil Peart are front and centre, and it’s their presence and personality that makes this film so much fun. We’ve always sensed the chemistry between the three on record and onstage, but the candid interviews here are illuminating for even the most obsessive Rush fan. Lee and Lifeson carry on like an old married couple, let alone a couple of guys who have known each other since junior high, each with his own laid-back sense of humour that always brings a sense of levity to a band skeptics misconstrue as stiff and overtly serious. Peart, on the other hand, is known for being stand-offish when it comes to interviews, but here he’s very forthcoming, going into great detail about his life before and after joining the band, most notably touching on the devastating loss of his daughter and wife in short succession in 1997. In fact, one of the best moments in the film is where he humbly explains why he doesn’t like to meet fans. He’s not being a grouch; he’s just too damned embarrassed at the attention.

Valuable perspective is also provided by the threesome’s parents, and while their trepidation was more than a little obvious back in the early-1970s when the guys started out, their support has always been unwavering. Peart’s father even talks about encouraging his son to leave the family farm equipment dealership when the offer to join Rush arose. Retail employees are a dime a dozen, while you might only get one shot at realizing your own dream. The plain fact is, these are three good Canadian kids who had very strong, middle class upbringings. One of the funnier aspects of this film is how incredulous their peers were when they learned just how “normal” this band turned out to be. Simmons, especially, who cheerfully tells a tale of how he and his KISS bandmates would be enjoying the local female talent in hotels during the mid-’70s, while their touring mates in Rush would be quietly holed up in their own rooms watching TV.

Of the celebrity interviews, Corgan turns out to be the most astute commentator of the lot; he clearly knows the band’s music as well as any fan, and his sincere, well thought-out analyses lend him instant credibility. Canadian Sebastian Bach hams it up to a nearly annoying degree, but he hilariously mentions how 2112 compelled him to but Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead at the age of 12, perfectly epitomizing the impact a band like Rush could have, and just how obsessive their fans could be.

Throughout the film Dunn and McFayden ask the question, how can a band that’s been around for so long and maintained a high level of popularity for decades be so overlooked by the mainstream music establishment? In the end, the resounding answer is, “Who cares?” Let Jann Wenner and his Rolling Stone elitists suck up to their own “hall of fame” inductees. Rush has always belonged to their fans, and their fans have always responded in kind with their unwavering support year after year. This time, though, the band as well as Dunn and McFayden have outdone themselves with a wonderful feature film that enlightens as much as it keeps us nerdy fans in stitches.

Review 2: Kyle Harcott

Banger Films has done it again, crafting another celluloid love letter to their favorite music, this time to Rush in Beyond The Lighted Stage, and once again, they’ve nailed it. A film about Rush, long overdue, could not have been made by two better filmmakers. As the film unfolded, I wondered if a film about Rush could have been made with such obvious love and respect by non-Canadians. Don’t get me wrong– I know, good music doesn’t have a border, and I’m no jingoist. It’s just that, growing up in Canada, Rush is such an institution. I mean, even now, the band’s a staple of CanCon-mandated classic-rock radio. And as a kid in the 80s, I couldn’t turn on MuchMusic (or Video Hits, or Good Rockin’ Tonite) without seeing a video from the trio (“Subdivisions” FTW!). My elder cousins had the Rush back-catalogue on vinyl (Hemispheres was the first piece of colored vinyl I ever saw; I remember it blew my mind that you could get records that weren’t black) so it was drilled into me from an early age that Rush was not only a great hard rock band, they were a great Canadian hard-rock band.

The varied artists who show their love are great; the Banger boys always get a great interview (Gene Simmons even manages to not talk about himself for once!). The level of respect for Rush makes this such a compelling watch. The fans (famous and non-famous alike) come out of the woodwork to show their love, while the interviews with family members give us a real sense of what it was like in those early days. The archival footage of a teenage Alex Lifeson arguing with his folks about quitting school is priceless.

Ultimately though, it’s the intimate interviews with Geddy, Alex and Neil that give this film its shine. There’s a level of humility and awkwardness that give them their charm, something again, I want to plant a flag in as inherently Canook. They still come off as such nice Canadian boys, even after all these years of international rock fame; grounded and polite. To me, that’s way more revealing than a film just trotting out another jaded old tale of rock’n’roll excess. There’s a certain humility buried in the Rush saga; especially evident in segments dealing with the brotherhood-bond between Alex & Geddy, which extends back to their early teens. Or the segments regarding the painfully-shy Neil Peart, whose personal tragedies almost ended Rush – that they didn’t is miraculous.

All in all, Beyond The Lighted Stage is the kind of film Rush fans have been waiting for. And Banger Films have made the kind of filmic tribute that was worth the wait. As always, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Review 3: Rob Hughes

How do you explain Rush—their chemistry, appeal, influence, longevity; never mind their amazing music—in 90 minutes? Sounds impossible, but Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen have done it with Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.

Dunn, who was a strong presence as our tour guide in A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal, steps aside and allows a cast of dozens tell the story. Famous friends like Jack Black (hilarious throughout), Gene Simmons, and an amped-up Sebastian Bach testify to Rush’s greatness. The band’s parents (who are also good for a laugh) reminisce about giving their boys the freedom to pursue their dreams. The band themselves are remarkably candid about their struggles, triumphs, and sartorial foibles. Dunn brandishes his anthropology degree only during a mercifully brief segment on Rush fans (that might be the subject for another documentary, but I wouldn’t want to see it). The end result is a vast love-in, filled with wonder and laughter at what these three unlikely Canadian lads have achieved.

Structurally, the film is a straightforward chronology. There’s no central event around which to build a narrative. The documentary is divided into chapters (with Roman numerals in the style of Rush epics) with titles like “Finding Our Way” and “Assuming Control” that take us from the band’s childhoods to the present. There is drama along the way, comprising events that are familiar to any Rush fan—the pre-2112 struggles for creative autonomy and record company pressure, Alex Lifeson’s creative struggles circa Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, Neil Peart’s crushing family tragedies, and the band’s recent “Revenge of the Nerds” resurgence in pop culture.

For hardcore fans, the film’s biggest appeal lies in its jaw-dropping assortment of vintage clips and pictures. Without dropping any spoilers here, let’s just say this stuff goes way, way back to the days when Lee, Lifeson and Rutsey were playing high schools, deafening teens across Southern Ontario. A dizzying collection of press clippings, flyers, and posters show how far the band rose through the ranks (and how the music business has changed over the decades). Dunn and McFadyen were obviously given full access to the band’s archives, and they’ve made great use of it.

The film also reveals the profound depth of Alex and Geddy’s friendship, which has clearly been at the heart of the band from the get-go, and the key to its continued existence. The two of them make a great comedy team wherever they go, providing some of the film’s biggest laughs in the process. Dunn and McFadyen caught some golden moments tailing the pair around town. Some people might see a relationship devoid of antagonism and alienation as boring—where’s the spice, where’s the hook? But there’s a particularly Canadian sensibility in the entire band’s mutual respect and fondness, a spirit with which the filmmakers (and everyone who who’s onscreen) approached the project. As Trent Reznor says, Rush has always taken the righteous path—and so has this film.

Review 4: Rob Kachluba

This movie was done really well. You don’t need to be a Rush fan to get it. Even the casual viewer can enjoy this movie..The guys in the band are really down to Earth. The film shows how the odds were so stacked against them for trying to play this kind of music back then and still, they reached such greatness without bending to any trends or music industry pressure. The cameos in the film by people such as Sebastian Bach, Jack Black and Gene Simmons are very entertaining. His movie is definitely worth recommending to any music or film fan.

Review 5: Albert Mansour

Perfect from start to finish, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage captures all the atmosphere and excitement from the start of their career right up to the current date. The documentary transmits to the viewer their history, their tragedies, their legendary fans and the inside jokes. This comes highly recommend even to those who are not fans of the band. Guaranteed to stimulate your appetite to rock, the feature is Rush at their best. Director Sam Dunn delivers a knock-out and a powerful documentary that demonstrates why Rush is probably the greatest band of all time.

Review 6: Sean Palmerston

This movie really surpassed my expectations, especially on second viewing. Instead of doing a narrative documentary like they have done in the past with the Metal movies and Flight 666, this time the Banger Film crew let those involved explain the history of Rush though their stories, archival footage and photos of the band spanning the last forty-plus years. As a longtime fan of Rush, I actually learned a lot about the personalities behind the music, something that a lot of these type of movies never seem to capture. Instead, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage really lets the viewer get an inside glimpse into the band, their storied history and the personal troubles that they have had to overcome. The interviews with drummer Neil Peart are especially enlightening, given the fact that he does not do as much press as the other members do. It goes a long way to explain why, whether diehard fans like it or not, Peart remains a private person despite fame.

This is interesting enough that the casual music/film fan will enjoy watching it too. You don’t need to be a Rush nerd to enjoy the movie, but if you are you should absolutely love it.

Review 7: Jonathan Smith

The latest documentary from Toronto-based filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, Beyond The Lighted Stage is an in-depth look at Canada’s critically unsung heroes Rush. Composed entirely of commentary from band members, various industry partners, fans, and family, musicians who have been inspired by the band, and archival material, it’s recommended for serious Rush fans and those interested in rock histories. That said, it’s questionable how much appeal it has for casual viewers or how much replay incentive it provides.

The first “chapters” of the film focus on the band’s origins in Toronto, their first tours around North America and beyond, and their musical development. It’s these earlier moments where Beyond The Lighted Stage is at its strongest. It’s a treat to see Toronto nightlife and art scenes in the 1970s come to life through archival footage and photographs. One of the movie’s strongest scenes are recollections from Rush’s members and KISS’s Gene Simmons regarding their early tour together, the friendship the bands shared, and the creative and social differences between them. These chapters take up a good chunk of the film, which has the disadvantage of ensuring that the discussion of Rush’s late 80s and early 90s output is condensed in order to make way for a focus on the personal stories behind the band’s 1997 hiatus and later return to music. Glossed over are the awkward concept videos, the cheesier attempts to stay relevant, and the return to a more stripped-down sound in the mid-1990s. Though the footage speaks for itself, it’s all explained by the band as being about their refusal to reject other influences. Fair enough, but with the film positioning Rush as a band that have always been misfits and true to their own visions, a little more attention to how market pressures are handled by long-standing artists in different decades would have been more interesting. The film slows things back down in its later chapters, taking time to focus on Rush’s return to recording and touring after their extended break following the death of drummer Neil Peart’s daughter and wife. While the presentation does work, it’s a standard approach for these kind of stories — the triumphant return of an older, wiser group of musicians overcoming they overcome personal tragedy — and it offers little in terms of originality in terms of how these life-changing events are usually presented.

Beyond The Lighted Stage is difficult to compare to its predecessor, Iron Maiden: Flight 666. The latter film is, in retrospect, somewhat tedious in its flow and self-indulgent in its sustained focus on Maiden’s touring hobbies (a lot of golf is played). It was the perfect film for curious Maiden fans like myself, but in the end offered little for anyone else. Beyond The Lighted Stage is much more accessible, and can be enjoyed by people who have a passing interest in Rush or their place in larger musical contexts. Its extra features are mostly outtakes, further elaborating on various points that would caused the main film’s pacing to ground to a halt at points (see Alex Lifeson’s passion for golf, apparently the hobby for middle-aged rock stars, as an example). The scenes are fun and quirky, adding to the value of the DVD package. Beyond The Lighted Stage may not have the depth that A Headbanger’s Journey or Global Metal have, but it’s a very different kind of documentary. Rush fans should see it, as should anyone who’s going to their first Rush concert and wants to feel like they’re joining a mythology of sorts. Others should decide based on their interest in rock history and/or feelings about Rush’s music.

Review 8: Laura Wiebe Taylor

I was inclined to like Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s Rush documentary before it even really began. Re-listening to my entire Rush collection (in order) while prepping to write on my favourite song and album… well, this already had me feeling nostalgic about the band. That done, I found myself sitting down to view the newly-released film under the best of conditions – first class home theatre housed in a metal shrine, good beer, excellent company. To be clear then, Beyond the Lighted Stage would have had to be seriously bad to truly disappoint me. But as contemporary backstage footage cut to vintage live performance, the doc set off on just the right note and it seemed like my optimism might be justified. The narrative drive here is a question: if Rush is so good and so popular, why couldn’t the critics and cool folks appreciate ’em? Dunn and McFadyen try to construct an answer through a fusion of defence and analysis, laid out in chronological biographical form. I was most captivated by the old school photos and footage (and sometimes perplexed – where did they find all this stuff?) and most charmed by old stories including reminiscences from a couple of Rush moms and a dad. Aside from a momentary lull part way through the pacing impressed me too, lingering long enough on each segment to let it sink in but then quickly and smoothly moving on to the next. Celebrity endorsements and fan interviews fell into an interesting contrast and offered the outsider view, shoring up the reflections of those much closer to and, of course, in the band. Aside from the soundtrack – a strong (if obvious) selection of important Rush moments – the persistent touch of humour running through the film may be the most important element, assuring us that even the most earnest of bands has a lighter side and a capacity for self-deprecation. I’m eager to catch up on the rest of the extras, and when I’m done that, watching the whole thing over again.

Review 9: Adam Wills

Upon hearing that Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s next project would be another band documentary, I was instantly excited. The team has put together some amazing films revolving around heavy metal, including the bands and people that really bring the underground genre to life. With three solid films under their belt, the gang at Banger Films have put together another band profile, this time covering Canadian pseudo-legends, Rush.

Split into chapters reflecting different points in the band’s life, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage takes the viewer from the very beginnings (where Alex met Geddy), through their explorative career and personal tribulations, right through to the present. Scattered between candid moments with the band (both together, and separately) are vast amounts of incredibly rare live/practice footage, never-seen-before photos from Geddy’s “personal vault”, and interviews with other artists about the impact that Rush has had on their careers, and music in general (including Billy Corgan, Les Claypool, Kirk Hammett, Mike Portnoy, Trent Reznor, Gene Simmons, Zakk Wylde and of course, Jack Black).

The film poses the initial question of “why doesn’t RUSH get considered as a legendary band when their contribution to rock music is as great as it is”, and really puts forth a compelling argument. While I’ve never been the biggest Rush fan out there, I’ve always had plenty of respect for their musicianship, but after a viewing of “Rush…”, that level of respect has grown. The trio are true pioneers and visionaries in the truest senses of the word, and hopefully this showcase of their talent will help them get the full attention that a lot of people seem to think they’re missing.

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Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.