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Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

“An honest and intriguing look into the evolution of Canada’s greatest rock band.”

Directed by Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen

2010, Canada

Generally, people either love Rush or just don’t get them, but no one can dispute the band’s integrity, commitment to craft and artistic evolution. Such is the picture painted by directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn who have created an honest and intriguing look into the evolution of Canada’s greatest rock band.

The film opens with a look at today’s Rush, backstage before a show – the seasoned musicians who’ve been together for over 40 years: guru Neil Peart effortlessly gearing up on drums; the iconic Geddy Lee singing Limelight as he picks at his bass; and Alex Lifeson, master guitarist,  strumming away before he breaks out into some spontaneous comedy routine. Then: a crisp, hard-hitting scene of the veterans of rock on stage, telling their own epic story in a seamless, passionate way, a way that can only be described as Rush.

A montage of archival footage unfolds of founding members Lifeson and Lee’s modest roots, hardworking immigrant families and marginalized childhoods when they struggled to just be themselves. In junior high, the two became fast friends, bonding over their nerdiness and love of music. With original drummer John Rutsey, Rush is formed and they begin playing in church halls and high school dances around Toronto. Rutsey’s exit due to health issues just as the band starts making waves and touring means a new drummer. Enter Neil Peart – The New Guy – an introverted, opinionated bookworm who has written some of the most ambitious lyrics of all time.

Testimonials from the likes of Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammett, Gene Simmons and Trent Reznor provide a telling look at how the band influenced the world despite critics. Record companies wanted Rush to make more commercial music, but kowtowing to the industry is not in the band’s repertoire; mastering their instruments and musicality in a refined, complex approach to make the best records possible has always been Rush’s true focus.

With the success of the concept album 2112 back in ’76, Rush finds itself in a position of power and independence, able to follow its own voice and refusing management into studio sessions. This album was the band’s “passe-partout” as Peart so aptly puts it. Even when deemed “terminally unhip” by the industry, the group develops a cult following and becomes the “high priests of conceptual metal”.

Directors McFadyen and Dunn with writer Mike Munn weave insightful, accessible and oftentimes humoristic threads that follow the band members as they twist and turn through musical and personal discoveries, intense tragedies and an eventual comeback.

Ranked third behind only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for the most gold and platinum albums ever, Rush remains snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; however mainstream has never been the band’s course. The true test for Rush – and any other band – will always be audience response, whether or not fans can instinctively understand and relate to a band’s story, message and excitement. And for the undefinable, curious, overreaching Rush, fans have never stopped screaming.

– Melanie Lefebvre