D: Dale Heslip / 97m
Narrator: Paul Rudd
With: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, Ray Danniels, Jillian Maryonovich, Liam Birt, Howard Ungerleider, Brian Hiatt, Arthur “Mac” Mclear, Ray Wawrzyniak, Michael Moore
What does it say about a band that, after over forty years the same three members are still together, still passionate about the music they’ve created, and more importantly, still the best of friends? That’s the case with Rush, the Canadian rock band whose members Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, have weathered the storms of poor early album sales, record label pressure to “conform”, following their own musical path, personal tragedy (twice), and the debilitating effects of psoriatic arthritis and chronic tendinitis. Alongside all these downs though, there have been some incredible positives: increased critical acclaim, increased album sales, pop cultural relevance, the vocal appreciation of their peers, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But most important of all, they’ve had the benefit of one of the most loyal fanbases ever.
This is the aspect of Rush’s forty year-plus history that Rush: Time Stand Still explores most effectively, while it also follows the band on what – so far – has proved to be their farewell tour. The tour has come about for a variety of reasons. Peart relates wanting to retire from touring but being persuaded/emotionally blackmailed by Lifeson’s need to go out on the road one last time while he still can, while Lee wants to keep going and going and going… Listening to three friends voice differing opinions about what’s best for each of them, and still managing to find a common accord without any lasting or lingering resentment is a testament to the strength of their friendship, and on a broader basis, the importance of the band itself in their lives. It’s clearly a tough decision that they’ve made though, and all three provide honest perspectives on the end of something that has been a huge part of their lives for such a long time.
The movie covers Rush’s R40 tour from its early stages as the format is decided on, and all the way through to the final show. Along the way there are generous helpings of Rush doing what they do best, and from various stages of their career (and with all the worrying stage outfits they’ve worn over the years). These sequences aren’t just there to illustrate the band’s prowess on stage – though this soon becomes obvious – but the pleasure that the band still derive from performing after so many thousands of shows in so many thousands of venues. Back in the Seventies it seemed as if Rush were only away from the road when they were in the studio recording an album, and though they’ve slowed down as the years have gone by, their enthusiasm and passion for playing live has been retained. It’s the one thing, even beyond the likes of albums such as 2112 (1976), Moving Pictures (1981), and Test for Echo (1996), that has brought Rush their success. The movie reflects this through the thoughts of the band members themselves, and more pertinently, through the thoughts of their fans.
It’s this aspect of Dale Heslip’s documentary that elevates it and makes it more than yet another movie that covers a band on tour, even if it is their last (probably). Correctly recognising that without the fans who have come to their shows over and over Rush’s success might not have been as far-reaching as it has been, Heslip casts a spotlight on the likes of Jillian Maryonovich, who for a time was a White House staffer under Barack Obama by day and the creative director of Rushcon, the band’s fan club, by night, and Ray Wawrzyniak, an obsessive collector of all things Rush including Indonesian cassette releases and his sister’s 8-track copy of 2112 (which he promises he’ll return one day). It’s fans such as these and their passion for the band that gives the movie a sense that there’s a symbiosis going on, that without the fans Rush wouldn’t be having a second documentary made about them – after Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010) – or that without the band, their fans wouldn’t have anything quite so joyous in their lives. It’s the power of collective reliance: each needs the other albeit for different reasons.
The sheer enthusiasm for the band that the fans display is best expressed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The master of ceremonies, Jann Wenner, announces each inductee and there’s a healthy amount of applause for each one, but when it comes to Rush, the whole place erupts. As Geddy Lee says, “It was impressive. These guys put us in the Hall of Fame. And they were celebrating their moment. And I still get choked up when I think about it.” That acknowledgment is perhaps the most illuminating moment in the whole movie, and gives credence to the idea that Rush aren’t just a band that have a loyal following – instead they have fans who care over and above in terms of the usual relationship fans have with a band. Whether or not this is actually a good thing, the movie doesn’t take the time to pursue. Instead it highlights the fans’ passion for the band, and the band’s reciprocal feelings for their fans. Criticism is useless because nothing will change.
Although the overwhelming love for Rush on display does border on the pathologically obsessive, and some fans may want to get out of their parents’ basements a bit more often, the movie also relies heavily on the thoughts and feelings of the band themselves. All three are eloquent, thoughtful interviewees whose experiences as a touring band for over forty years has provided them with insights into the rock and roll life that are sometimes sobering, sometimes surprising, but always interesting, and the differing emotions that each has about retiring from the road are given honestly and with a great deal of thought towards the feelings of each other. The band have clearly enjoyed their journey to the last tour, and though the movie is a celebration of the end of that journey, there’s a bittersweet undertone that is present and which adds poignancy to the aftermath of the last show. But that poignancy is soon replaced by something more touching. The fans we see look bereft; what on earth are they going to do now that their heroes, in terms of live shows, have retired both themselves and their fans?
Rating: 8/10 – a documentary that benefits from the commitment and openness of both Rush and their fans, Rush: Time Stand Still is a fascinating look at a band who became successful the hard way and made both their lives and the lives of their fans something to cherish; die-hard fans will lap up every minute, while those new to Rush may find themselves perplexed by the depth of the fans’ devotion, but either way this is a movie that captures the spirit and the heart of a relationship that, after forty-plus years, has never wavered on either side.