FEATURE: “It’s Lonely Out in Space”: The Elton John Biopic, Rocketman, and a More Truthful Representation



“It’s Lonely Out in Space”


IN THIS PHOTO: Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman/PHOTO CREDIT: Press/Dexter Fletcher 

The Elton John Biopic, Rocketman, and a More Truthful Representation


ONE of the criticisms that faced the Queen/Freddie Mercury...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Elton John (circa 1970)/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, was the moments omitted and a distortion of the truth. We got a good view of Queen’s rise but, with some inaccuracies and key aspects of Mercury’s life left out, some felt that the film played fast and loose with the truth. There is no denying that Mercury’s gay relationships were left out. We saw his relationship with Mary and their story but not a lot of revelation regarding the other side. By that, we did not see Mercury as this club-dwelling man; someone who was bisexual and those moments of excess. Maybe this was taken out to keep the film to a good length and there wasn’t too much space for everything. One feels, in order not to offend people, this was removed. It seems a shame that this Oscar-winning film was not bold enough to explore Mercury’s personality in real depth and venture into areas that are a little more eye-opening. There is more than one reason to feature Sir Elton John today. Tomorrow is his birthday so I know there will be radio stations playing his stuff and celebrating the man. I am a fan of his and, whilst I do not know all of his music, I do hope that the new biopic, Rocketman, included a good range of his material. The film is directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall. We get to see Elton John (Taron Egerton) go from this prodigy right through to moments of excess and him accepting his sexual orientation. There is this mix of the uplifting and the more challenging moments.

There have been articles published asking whether, like Bohemian Rhapsody, there will be little regarding the lead’s darker side; the weaker moments and times when there was real struggle. In the case of Freddie Mercury, he had this wilder side and as we know, dated men. This is not truly covered on the film and we only get to see a certain angle. Whilst some are reporting scenes of homosexuality and drug abuse will be taken out, it seems like Rocketman will play closer to the truth. Taron Egerton, when asked about the film, explained that there will be rawer moments:

"The movie begins with Elton marching into rehab in a real bad way, sweaty, grinding his teeth and that's our jumping-off point for the film. We learn his life through him recanting his experiences from this therapy room," he told Digital Spy and other press.

Egerton praised Elton's stance that Rocketman could show him at his "most vulnerable".

"It's right at the heart of what makes Rocketman quite special because Elton gave me the licence to go and make him look quite ugly at times, that was always very important to me," he continued.

"This movie is primarily a celebration of Elton's life and work and his musical partnership with Bernie Taupin, but it's also a story about someone who is not well becoming well".

In some ways, the film is going to be an atypical biopic. There will be moments of fantasy and playfulness but these are going to sit alongside more upsetting and stark scenes.

I do like the fact that the filmmakers are not standing back and projecting this rather one-sided and happy portrait of a complex artist. It seems like, rarely, we might see someone exposed and open. According to AV Club, it seems like we will have this rawer, R-rated film that does not shy away from giving a true portrait of the iconic Elton John:

This is per The Hollywood Reporter, which quotes sources stating that Fletcher’s movie is headed for a pretty definitive R-rating from the MPAA, at least in part due to scenes of drug use, foul language, and explicit sex between Egerton’s John and his former manager/lover John Reid. (Also: “brief rear nudity.”) There’s also a suggestion that Paramount has asked Fletcher to tone some of this stuff down in the interest of scoring some of that sweet Rhapsody cash, but the director recently issued a tweet denying such allegations, stating that Rocketman “has and always will be the no holds barred, musical fantasy that Paramount and producers passionately support and believe in.”

In other words, Rocketman—which various attached parties, including Egerton, have described as less of a straight biopic, and more of a “musical fantasy” based on John’s early career—sounds like the sort of weird, delightfully messy thing that it’s unlikely anyone will be able to accuse of shying away from the artist’s more decadent side. Which, frankly: Bring it on, especially since the first trailer for this movie already looked fantastic. Just be careful with the editing, please, unless you want to get another one of those Oscars everybody ends up making fun of for years”.

PHOTO CREDIT: EMG/Shutterstock

These are all rumours at the moment and, whilst Dexter Fletcher says that they are still making cuts and nothing is finalised, it seems like we will see Elton John in all his guises. The advantage of Rocketman is the fact that its subject is alive and consulted with the team. John was pretty straight when he said he wanted them to tell it like it is. There is talk that a gay sex scene has been cut but, with so many reports flying around, this is all rumours. I like the fact that an artist as big as Elton John has allowed this film and is happy for people to see his story. It is not going to be a rather dry and traditional story. There are these fantastical elements and we will see that juxtaposition of the camp/delightful and bleak. Elton John is this complex man and someone who, through the decades, has created some of the best music ever. People who have watched the trailers are excited and it does seem like we will see a balanced story. There is always that risk when it comes to biopics. From Jim Morrison and Johnny Cash to Freddie Mercury and anyone else...how easy is it to be honest and uncompromising and satisfy everyone? One of the ‘worries’ when it came to consider Freddie Mercury as this sometimes-veracious and Wildman...well, would people get upset and would the film be inaccessible to a lot of the audience?

If you give something an 18-certificate or make it very explicit in places, it cuts the box office appeal and means that fewer people go and see it. That might sound cynical but there are going to be those conversations regarding making the biopic family-friendly. People do not want to think about these stars as anything other than pure and perfect and, if we peak behind the curtain, will that illusion shatter?! In the age of social media – where everyone reveals everything about themselves – is film heading in the other direction and becoming too cagey and cloistered? It is hard to create an honest representation of an artist because you do not want to offend and it is hard to include everything. Dexter Fletcher has spoken with Elton John and will ensure that his film shows the superstar in a variety of lights. I am not sure how deep they are going regarding sex scenes – maybe a bad choice of words! – but there is a fine line between reality/honesty and being too explicit. The same goes for drug abuse – just how much do we want to see? In every case – whether it relates to sex, violence or drugs – you need to decide where the line is but not hide it from view. Why are music biopic trending and becoming a bigger thing now?

 IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie (there is a planned biopic, Stardust, in-development)/PHOTO CREDIT: Nicolas Roeg/Getty Images

With planned biopics of David Bowie and Céline Dion on their way, it seems there is an appetite. The Guardian try and unpack the reason behind this rise:

But following the enormous success of Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and the impending arrival of the Elton John film Rocketman, it seems like artists have realised that backing biopics and celebratory movies is a way of reaffirming their cultural relevance and opening new revenue streams as traditional incomes from record sales are on the wane. Although the forthcoming Bowie biopic Stardust – starring Johnny Flynn – has been made without the involvement of the late star’s estate, there’s a Mötley Crüe biopic out on Netflix in March, featuring the no-longer-touring band’s old music and four new songs written for the film. Also on the way is a Céline Dion movie, The Power of Love, while the Who’s Roger Daltrey recently suggested that his long-mooted biopic of drummer Keith Moon is finally in the offing.

“The movies sell the music, and the music is a marketing tool for the movie,” says Observer film critic Wendy Ide. Thus, Bohemian Rhapsody – the biggest music biopic yet – was pitched beyond Queen’s fanbase as “a display cabinet to introduce the songs to a new audience”. In the streaming era – as artists have less control over the dissemination of their own music – Ide sees biopics, musicals and similar vehicles as a way of taking back the reins. So Queen’s Brian May and John Taylor, creative consultants on the film, are “astute businessmen with tight control over their product, which extends beyond the music and into [late singer] Freddie Mercury’s personal history”. Hence the “slightly sanitised, safe and schematic” approach to any rock’n’roll excess”.


I am surprised it has taken so long for an Elton John biopic to come about and one would think a West End musical about his work would be happening. Maybe there has been reservation from the man himself or, maybe, the right project never came along. It seems that there is a desire from filmmakers to get these incredible artists to new generations. In this article, there is theory as to what makes a great biopic – and why a bit of imagination and fantasy elevates the mind:

“...Of course, musicians’ lives, like everyday lives, aren’t really like that. And, paradoxically, arguably the best music biopic is one that steadfastly refuses to romanticise either the struggle or the outcome. Anton Corbijn’s portrait of Ian Curtis, Control (right), shows him at his day job, or in his suburban home, or being an uncommitted father and husband. Even as Joy Division become popular, there’s no triumph. His death, when it comes, is not elevated into a substitute for the crucifixion: it’s all the more tragic for being so real.

Music is at its most exciting when it fires the imagination. And that’s what writing at length about music, at its best, can do. Without drab talking heads on screen, or some badly recreated gig on a studio soundstage, your mind and the words on the page can take you to the most hyperreal version of reality”.

There are other articles that ask whether it is ever able to be transparent and truthful when creating biopics. I think, in the case of Rocketman, we will get a fair and stunning look at this masterful musician. It will be interesting to see how Elton John reacts to the film and what he reckons. It will be great and I think we will see one of the most balanced and truthful biopics in a long time. Who knows, this time next year it might be challenging for Oscars! Elton John turns seventy-two tomorrow and it is a great time to listen to his music. Get involved and, if you can, start from the beginning. It is interesting seeing this rise ans change through the decades. Many say that Elton John has produced some of his best material in last couple of decades and everyone will have their own views on that.

John is taking part in his final-ever tour and, if you can, go and see the man on the road. I am not a super-fan but I recall listening to classics like I’m Still Standing and Crocodile Rock as a child. These infectious and catchy songs captured me at a young age but I also love the more emotive and softer songs. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), in fact, is a favourite of mine and there are so many songs in the Elton John catalogue that can rank alongside the very best from all of time. I do not know whether there are more John albums coming along or whether we have heard everything from him – let’s hope there are many more records! If you have not discovered the bounty of Elton John’s music then have a listen on Spotify and go out and buy his records! It is a fantastic experience and Elton John changes between records. You can never predict a particular sounds because, at every stage, he picks up fresh influence - one of the most versatile and engaging artists there has ever been!

I have put a playlist down below that merely scratches the surface – there is so many more treats to be discovered. There is nobody quite out there like Elton John but he has inspired so many different artists – including Kate Bush. I think there are other musicians who deserve the big-screen connection but, as we have seen in the past, there is always a risk. Whether you glamorous the subject or whitewash a lot of the worse sides, it is never easy to please everyone. The music is the most important thing and, just looking at the trailer and you feel energised and excited. It will be interesting to see what comes when Rocketman hits our screens on 24th May (in the U.K.;  31st May in the U.S.). It shows there is this big love for Elton John and a real appetite for his work. Taron Egerton has some big shoes to fill and it must have been weird talking to the man he is playing; that balance of nerves, expectation and thrill. There is this line in Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time) that goes “I’m not the man they think I am at home” which got me thinking about the Elton John away from music and the one who owns the stage and captivates audiences around the world. It will be unique seeing this glimpse behind closed doors and a more rounded view of the iconic – without tabloidisation and needless over-dramatisation. If you are a fan of his work or not, Rocketman is a film you will want to see and, unlike many music biopics, it seems like we will get pretty close to...

THE real truth of a legendary figure.