“What kind of band is Rush?” Gene Simmons asks in the documentary, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage. “It’s Rush.”
The progressive rock trio and subject of Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s latest film — which screens at Hot Docs tonight at the Winter Garden Theatre and tomorrow at the Isabel Bader Theatre — is in a category all its own.
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The Toronto band, comprised of lead vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, has been around for more than 40 years, sold more than 40 million albums and ranks only behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in terms of consecutive gold or platinum certifications.
Known for their sick musicianship and cerebral lyrics, their fans are insanely loyal. Counted among them are Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan, and others, all of whom gladly spoke of their admiration in the film, quoting lyrics and musical passages and Rush’s profound influence on them.
“This film was different than anything else we’ve done before in that it’s a history of a particular band — and we chose a band with a really long history,” laughs Dunn, a noted “heavy metal anthropologist” whose previous docs with McFadyen have explored the genre on a worldwide scale: 2005’s Metal: A Headbangers Journey; 2008’s Global Metal; and the recent Juno Award-winning Iron Maiden: Flight 666 — covering the English band’s 23-show, five-continent, 45-day 2008 tour.
“I think the greatest challenge for us from a creative perspective was, first of all, to say what are we going to cover or how are we going to cover this band? And then try and find a way to integrate the different themes about the band that we were interested in — things like musicianship and the fan-base and the fashion, or lack thereof (laughs).”
Uncovering amazing archival footage, such as a teenage Lifeson talking about quitting high school to a radio interview with original drummer John Rutsey, not to mention heaps of old photos and flyers, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage not only traces the complete history of the band, including musical missteps and personal trauma, but naturally reveals what’s at the core of their longevity — friendship, communication, humour and respect. It’s a story bigger than Rush, bigger than just a determined little rock band that became huge.
“We knew that we probably could’ve stopped editing nine months ago if we were going to just make it interesting to fans,” says McFadyen, “but there was something in their story, especially Geddy and Alex, growing up in the suburbs of Toronto and being first generation Canadians. One of the big reasons for making this film was to tell that story.”