“Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage,” Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn’s film about the world’s most famous cult band, exists in a parallel universe to that of hit docu “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” Both pics trace a three-man, Toronto-spawned rock group through decades of dedicated musical endeavor, but where “Anvil!” celebrates also-rans, “Rush” finds winners. Though never popular with critics or mainstream listeners, Rush nevertheless attracted loyal fanatics and amassed a formidable array of gold and platinum albums. Endearing docu, winner of Tribeca’s audience award, should delight devotees and intrigue nonbelievers as it moves to theatrical play.
Awash in photos, artifacts and concert footage covering Rush’s 40-year run, McFadyen and Dunn’s film contains worshipful testimonials from fellow rockers (including a sincere if amusing homage from Jack Black), along with reminiscences from friends and touring colleagues. Crucial, though, are the candid extended interviews with lead vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, which allow the highly knowledgeable filmmakers (both are veteran heavy-metal documentarians) to concisely follow the many twists and turns of a group as remarkable for the constant reinvention of its sound as for the unusual stability of its makeup.
From heavy metal to fantasy-riddled concept pieces to new-wave prog rock to jazzier stylings, Rush engaged in endless retooling that never stemmed from their albums’ relative commercial failure or success. Filmmakers note Rush’s wildly polarizing effect on listeners, who either loved them or hated them, and duly report on the mockery and nonstop negative reviews that dogged them. Growing respect and admiration for Rush’s musicianship rarely translated into appreciation for their songs, as Lee’s high-pitched voice and Peart’s flirtation with Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics proved hardest for critics to swallow.
Not especially interested in maintaining distance from their subjects, McFayden and Dunn allow the trio to give running commentary on their sartorial and musical experimentation. Lee, particularly insightful, supplies rueful remarks on his own unfortunate 10-year fascination with synthesizers (Lifeson and Peart went along with it more out of loyalty than stylistic agreement) or on the threesome’s clueless stabs at image-making, dolling themselves up in flowing locks and silk kimonos that hardly fit their nerdy personalities.
Gene Simmons recalls passing by the band’s hotel room (Rush toured as Kiss’ opener early on), only to find Lee, Lifeson and Peart sitting quietly reading or watching TV while everyone else orgied. Biographical details, such as the fact that Lee’s parents were Holocaust survivors, are given little emphasis (instead, his folks convey the usual joking incomprehension as to their offspring’s vocational choice). Pic consigns more screen time to the lengthy, mournful motorcycle trip Peart took following the untimely deaths of his wife and daughter, causing a five-year hiatus that almost spelled Rush’s end.
Further shoutouts from peers include nods from Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins.