The tag line on the DVD cover of Beyond the Lighted Stage reads: "The band you know. The story you don't." I thought I knew all of the Rush basics before viewing this career-spanning rockumentary on the Canadian prog-rock trio, but I was proven wrong.
Rush has always been a private and mysterious band. Naturally camera shy, bassist/singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart have successfully dodged the spotlight over the course of their career. Thankfully, they're not demeaned or abused by a snarky tone in this doc.
Beyond the Lighted Stage is balanced, respectful, and surprisingly funny — yet another winner from Banger Productions' Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, who also made last year's Iron Maiden: Flight 666. Rarely has a TV or film company been so successful in telling such an in-depth story of such a behind-the-scenes veteran rock act.
The opening shows each member carefully warming up backstage at a coliseum concert before jumping into black-and-white footage of a "Bastille Day," creating a sort of instant then-and-now contrast. The first chapters start with the suburban upbringing of each member and follows the band through their wide-eyed early years. The next few chapters plow through the trio's ever-changing musical detours and triumphs.
It's amazing to see film footage and hear the family stories of Lee and Lifeson as kids in the Toronto suburbs. Lee's mother and Lifeson's parents weigh in on their sons' awkward grade-school years and early attempts at learning their craft.
In a few early scenes, Lee and Lifeson tour their old schools and the church halls and auditoriums where they first performed together. Lifeson remarks at one point, "We both felt like we were really outside the rest of our class, the rest of our school, and the rest of everything. Then we discovered this manic love for music that we had."
Dunn and McFadyen spend a lot of time on Rush's formative years, between 1968 and 1973, when the late John Rutsey handled drum and emcee duties. They introduce the viewer to the managers, roadies, and studio engineers who became part of the tight-knit Rush family. Even some of the members of KISS, UFO, and Uriah Heep who once poked fun at Rush's awkward rock-nerd and nice-guy ways testify to the genuine wholesomeness and earnestness of the band.
The film picks up pace as the band's career (and sense of independence and confidence) gathers steam after the addition of Peart on drums. They show a menagerie of old newspaper clippings, handbills, concert posters, and off-stage photos from the Fly by Night and Caress of Steel days. Some of the strongest and most exhilarating concert footage depicts the band as they expanded into the more complicated and experimental mid-'70s rockstuff of 2112 and Hemispheres.
By the time Beyond the Lighted Stage covers the band's triumphant triad of Permanent Waves/Moving Pictures/Signals, the film has developed a full sense of who the men behind the music are — from their own quirks to their relationships with each other, other bands, and their fans.
One of the most emotional chapters involves the death of Peart's daughter in an automobile accident in 1997 and the death of his wife, who succumbed to cancer, in 1998. (Peart basically abandoned music after that and traveled North America on his motorcycle for three years, putting the band on hiatus). Some of the funniest moments involve some of the cruelest remarks made by critics about Lee's uniquely screechy singing voice and overly ambitious use of synthesizers in the 1980s and '90s.
While exciting, amusing, and educational, Beyond the Lighted Stage acknowledges and defines Rush as one of most independent-minded and influential hard rock bands of a generation. It's a fist-raising accomplishment.
See rushbeyondthelightedstage.com for more.