Elton John: Someone Like Me:
The well and truly objective among you out there wouldn't want to read a review of this documentary if it were written by an Elton John hater anymore than if it were written by a raving fan. Right, you've got me, then. I'll call myself a casual fan - a casual fan that has neither read a bunch of John biographies, nor seen a bunch of documentaries. I have his greatest hits on my mp3 player, Honky Chateau on vinyl, and recall that we had a Bennie and the Jets 45 when I was a wee lad. I loved it. Then again, I do not love this documentary.
So let's say reviews are based on some combination of supposition and expectation. We hope that a good reviewer bases his or her thoughts on what he or she supposes a good documentary should have, and what is expected to be delivered. Someone Like Me has some of what you'd expect; plenty of 'talking head' interviews, archival still shots and old footage, and a good overview of a musical career that spans over 40 years. However, I didn't expect it to seem so polite and cursory, and I didn't expect it to ultimately be so underwhelming.
The usual stops are made, Elton's (nee Reginald Dwight) childhood home, his early proclivity towards music, and his early career as an aggressive, intrepid blues-er on London's Carnaby Street in the mid-'60s. We learn of his tremendous chart dominance in the first half of the '70s, his serendipitous reinvention of an old favorite to become the fastest selling single of all-time in the wake of Princess Di's death, through to his becoming a grand-dame cultural icon in England and abroad. Despite being quite a lovely summary of John's life and career, and one that doesn't gloss over his sexuality and battles with varying addictions, it's all pretty wrong.
By which I mean while viewing I felt I was watching programming made especially for an airline, or a kiosk at some theme park. The sweet and proper voiced British narrator and Elton's old friends and associates are all so discrete, so full of British reserve, that certain facts (all of them) register no more forcefully that, say, learning what the GNP of Fiji is (not much). Sure, Elton drank constantly while managing to put out three chart-topping albums a year for periods in the early '70s. Did he do anything outrageous to appeal to our prurient interests? Did he hurt anyone? Beats me. Was there a depth to his upset when, from '75 to '82 and then from '83 to '97, he floundered artistically and commercially (save for The Lion King)? You won't find out, or be emotionally engaged in the slightest by this pamphlet of a biography.
Worst of all, and this is based both on supposition and expectation, there isn't one freaking drop of Elton John music to be heard anywhere on this disc. How can I get excited about John's masterful voice and compositions, or understand the importance of Bernie Taupin's words without hearing them? Why even bother? I suppose my expectations were too high, and that Elton's people were, too, when firstly, I couldn't geek out and get thrilled by the Rocket Man's audio power, and secondly John's managers wouldn't in any way endorse or allow his music to grace what is a very harmless biography.
Visually, you can certainly plant this 16 x 9 widescreen presentation in any penthouse. The archival footage the producers were able to plow up and exhibit shows age and film grain, but it's only what you'd expect, and the contemporary interviews are sharp, popping bright in color, and generally look great. I could have done without the endless scenes of Candle in the Wind '97 being pressed over and over whenever any super-graphics are shown, however.
Someone ruined my life tonight, when all I could hear on the fine Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack were naff blues/ jazz lite numbers from some egregious advertising music company (about four tunes in all) that never stopped, and in their persistence turned my brain into a piece of infomercialized mush.
Oh Eagle Media, you are a seamstress for the band who strings together only semi-interesting out-takes to round out this DVD. Sadly, these out-takes etc. are also included in the running time listed on the DVD cover, so beware. It's not a 98-minute biography, it's a 70-minute biography with actually only about 25 minutes of extras. Those are: 11 minutes of interviewee questions such as "what's your favorite Elton John song," and "will Elton still matter in 100 years?" Not exactly insightful stuff, really, and best left on the cutting room floor. And then, two minutes of footage of John introducing an auction for his AIDS foundation, the likes of which were probably seen in truncated form on Entertainment Tonight in 1987. Plus a one-minute interview from the late '70s (I think) asking Elton about his acquisition of original scripts from The Goon Show, (which influenced absolutely every British performer or artist who first emerged in the mid-'60s) but this snippet still isn't interesting. A fun three-minute newsreel from Carnaby Street in '67 is presented, nearly all of which has already been seen here and there in the documentary, and finally a 7-minute, too rapid super-graphic scroll of Elton's releases breezes by over still shots and that horrible background music. All in all, it's a dull cheat as far as extras are concerned.
"The greatest thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star." True and trenchant words, Elton, but as far as this documentary goes, that means that someone who, despite all of his destructive, addictive tendencies, despite his protean talent and brave demeanor in the face of homophobia, despite his incredibly interesting life, is in the end boring. Wow. And this documentary, as you hopefully by now surmise, is boring too, and misleading for fluffing its running time and having no actual music in it. Middle-school music teachers, this one is a Rent if you need an afternoon snooze on the desk while your students do the same. Elton John fans or anyone else who isn't writing a term paper on the musician, just Skip It, I'm sure there's better stuff out there, and you and Elton deserve it.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com