'Rush' Doc Doesn't Care For Cool

By Jim Slotek, Jam!Showbiz, June 10, 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is the kind of film all the cool documentarians claim they don?t want to make these days. That is to say, old school, chronologically presented with talking heads and footage.

Well, screw them. Conveying information and insight without artifice, Beyond the Lighted Stage uses every frame to wittily and touchingly convey a story that had yet to be properly told ? about a band and improbable worldwide phenomenon that is Canada?s own.

And if they do it in a style that the cool kids sneer at, so much the better. Because Rush has weathered the verdict of ?uncool? since the ?70s, and yet carried on to influence a generation of (mainly male) fans, some of whom have become quite famous, and all of whom seem to have suffered some degree of teen suburban ennui that was addressed either by Neil Peart?s overwrought poetry, or by his and Alex Lifeson?s mathematically virtuoso drumming and guitar.

Said famous fans include Jack Black, Smashing Pumpkins? Billy Corgan, Metallica?s Kirk Hammett, and Nine Inch Nails? Trent Reznor.

About the only people who might be disappointed by Beyond the Lighted Stage are uber-fans who will find the film doesn?t speak in code, and who may be a little miffed that Rush has entered some kind of trendy latter half-life, with appearances on The Colbert Report, spoofs on South Park and cinematic love letters like I Love You, Man.

But this latter is the redemption at the end of the rainbow, and the perfect last act for one of the few rock documentaries ever to be blessed by a natural narrative. There?s the early years, the improbable arena-filling ?80s, tragedy in the ?90s (with the deaths of Neil Peart?s daughter and wife in short order, followed by his nomadic motorbike trek/spirit quest around the continent), and a stadium-filling last act with bows from every corner of pop culture.

It is, in fact, the perfect Rush primer (at least one critic I know claimed to have not ever liked the band much, but did after seeing the movie).

Blessed with the band?s apparently no-strings approval (and liberal access to their archives and photos), Beyond the Lighted Stage begins in Willowdale with the cement-like friendship of two introverted music nuts ? the piercing-voiced Geddy Lee and Lifeson, both the children of immigrants. It follows them through parental disapproval, tentative attempts at band inception, an initial phase as blues-rockers, and ? hilariously ? as one of the worst-received high school dance bands in ?70s Ontario (due to their insistence on playing their own material).

As with Dunn and McFadyen?s earlier films, Metal: A Headbanger?s Journey and Global Metal, Rush: Beyond the Lighted stage is both respectful and mindful of absurdity.

Highlights of the latter include windblown hairdos on album covers, and fashion crimes during their prog-rock era (they went through a kimono phase onstage, for example). Humour is a pleasant surprise in a movie about a band whose songs were never particularly funny.

At one and three-quarter hours, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is somewhat long for its genre. But for everything it does, it is economically filmed and a recommended rock-nerd experience.

(This film is rated PG)