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Elton John: Tantrums and Tiaras
Pop superstar Elton John is perfectly clear about what he does not what Tantrums and Tiaras to highlight: no dissection of melodies, no career retrospectives and certainly no "holier than thou" attitudes. That his then-boyfriend, now-partner David Furnish was able to largely capture a portrait of an artist that shies away from the rote cliches that populate music documentaries while still managing to touch upon the very aspects disdained by John is amazing.
After all, one can't help but reflect upon a career as massively successful and multi-faceted as John's, just as venturing to pick apart the art is a temptation worth succumbing to. For better or worse, Tantrums and Tiaras is both a loving document and a furtive attempt to peel back the layers of one of pop music's most enduring talents.
Shot over the course of 1995, while John promoted and toured behind the underrated "Made in England," Furnish's fly-on-the-wall film takes viewers into the often startling world of a global pop icon. From his multiple homes and lavish lifestyle (the scenes of John's traveling wardrobe might shock all but the most hardened shoppers) to the (admittedly few) scenes of John blowing his stack, Tantrums and Tiaras allows for an intimate glimpse of someone who, aside from a few public revelations (drug abuse, his sexuality) has kept to himself.
Make no mistake -- no one will come away from Tantrums and Tiaras with a deeper understanding of, say, "Rock of the Westies," "The One" or "Reg Strikes Back," but rather, might feel more of a connection to the man behind the wild outfits and timeless tunes. It's impressive that Furnish is able to move past his relationship with John to play the role of tireless inquisitor; there are clearly moments when John would rather duck Furnish's questions, but he persists, often unveiling some truly moving, funny or insightful nuggets that die-hard fans will appreciate (although less rabid appreciators of John's art will also enjoy the film).
For all that Tantrums and Tiaras is not -- fawning, frothy, facile -- it is a quietly powerful examination of a pop star like few others. John says at one point that he's "not Madonna, not George Michael." He's speaking about his "lack of image," but I'd argue that David Furnish's film supplies him with one: a slightly outlandish, fiercely proud craftsman who, like all of us, has his flaws, but uses them to fashion his indelible brand of art. Not all documentaries successfully allows something resembling an understanding of their subjects, but this is certainly one that gets close.The DVD
Making its debut on DVD, Tantrums and Tiaras doesn't, unfortunately, have much to offer in the visual department. Presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen (Furnish shot the film simply, on a consumer-grade video camera) and not touched up or re-mastered in any apparent way, there's plenty of glare, grain and softness, but the effect enhances the documentary (making it seem like exactly what it is: home movies) rather than detracts.The Audio:
Much like the visuals, the aural end of things isn't too shiny either, but fares slightly better. A plain Jane Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack allows for clean, if occasionally fluctuating, dialogue during the numerous interview sequences, while the concert clips studding the film fare a bit better. On the whole, it's passable but you'll be wishing the DVD producers had included some optional English subtitles for the muddier sequences.The Extras:
Almost as much fun as the film itself is the commentary track from John and Furnish -- recorded in 2008, some 13 years after Tiaras was filmed, it's a revealing and warm listen. John proves to be a good sport, chuckling at some of the less flattering sequences, while providing a bit more insight than he was willing and/or able to at the time. He even catches viewers up on what's transpired since filming; as Furnish says, "I guess a lot can happen in 13 years." Additionally, 11 deleted scenes are included, which range from excised interviews with Kylie Minogue, Mario Testino and the late Gianni Versace to more "confessions" from John.Final Thoughts:
For all that Tantrums and Tiaras is not -- fawning, frothy, facile -- it is a quietly powerful examination of a pop star like few others. John says at one point that he's "not Madonna, not George Michael." He's speaking about his "lack of image," but I'd argue that David Furnish's film supplies him with one: a slightly outlandish, fiercely proud craftsman who, like all of us, has his flaws, but uses them to fashion his indelible brand of art. Not all documentaries successfully allows something resembling an understanding of their subjects, but this is certainly one that gets close. Highly recommended.