The Elton John biopic, Rocketman, aired at Cannes Film Festival last month and has since been released worldwide.
Now this movie certainly can’t be accused of being made in haste. Far from being a rush job, Rocketman has been in production for almost twenty years. This is mostly due to the fact that the concept has changed hands various times; Disney even had their white-gloved hands on it at some point.
What I’m getting at though, is this: having been in production for such a long time (and I mean a long time), you’d think that all inaccuracies would have been ironed out. That is, of course, unless these inaccuracies were completely intentional.
Elton John’s biopic has ruffled a few feathers already, with people who were “there” at the time suggesting that some of the portrayals in the movie are downright false. There have been suggestions that the picture intentionally tarnishes certain characters in Elton’s life to settle scores.
Here’s a coherent list of all the things that they got wrong about Elton John’s life.
Elton John’s discography is at the core of Rocketman and is used as a narrative device to tell the story of Elton’s life. Although I think it’s a clever tool to keep the music at the forefront of the story, if you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, you might have trouble digesting the intentional reshuffling of Elton John’s discography to fit with the over-arching narrative.
In the movie, we see Elton, or Reggie Dwight, as he was known as a boy, forlorn and lonely, but this loneliness isn’t isolated to young Reggie and it appears to be a collective feeling amongst his family.
Expressing their feelings through a group rendition of “I Want Love,” we watch the Dwight family sharing verses of the Elton John hit.
But, funnily enough, they did not sing “I Want Love”; a song that came out in 2001, forty-five years after they claim that it was sung in the movie.
According to Variety, it was actually the Mann hit that the Dwight’s forlornly sang together.
But eh, tiny details.
Speaking to The Sun, Elton said,
“‘I Want Love’ is a song Bernie wrote, I think, about himself: A middle-aged man with a few divorces wondering if he is ever going to fall in love again but it fitted life in Pinner Hill Road perfectly”.
I guess music really does transcend an individual’s life in some ways, speaking a broader, more general truth.
In the movie, we see Elton performing at The Troubadour for the first time. It is undoubtedly his performance of “Crocodile Rock” that turned heads on the set and suggests that the number played a significant role in sparking American interest in the singer.
In reality, Elton did not write or release “Crocodile Rock” for another three and a half years.
At the end of the movie (sorry sorry sorry spoilers), Elton performs “I’m Still Standing”. The narrative suggests that this classic Elton John song was written post-rehab and only after a visit from Elton’s John’s long term friend, Bernie Taupin, who encourages him to get back onto the writing saddle.
Sadly, as much as we’d all like to believe that this uplifting number was written whilst Elton was clean, it’s simply not true.
This was years before Elton got clean and can’t really be attributed to the narrative of his re-birth, as the movie suggests.
In defense of the musical reshuffling in Rocketman, I’d argue that Elton’s songs have grown truer, more profound meanings as his life and career moved forward.
Take “I’m Still Standing” for one, the lyrics to the song may well have been written in reaction to Elton feeling himself falling into irrelevance during the early 1980s, with the New Romantic and Post-Punk movements taking shape, but who’s to say the lyrics could not have evolved to reflect John’s later up-hill struggle with addiction? Maybe the singer felt that the significance of the lyrics lent much more to his relationship with drug abuse than the less life-altering concerns about staying relevant.
Far from clean in the music video for “I’m Still Standing,” Duran Duran revealed that they had gotten Elton very drunk.
In his autobiography, Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, Andy Taylor recalls how they had “discovered that Elton John was in town, filming the video for his song I’m Still Standing. This was before Elton became teetotal, so he was still a steaming party animal; we went up to see him at his hotel and spent the afternoon getting blasted on Martinis”.
Apparently, Elton had six martinis – I’d be barely standing.
Elton John is famous, not only for his music and his shades, but he’s also pretty well known for having an eclectic mix of famous friends.
Elton John famously performed at Lady Diana’s funeral, performing a re-written version of “Candle In The Wind”.
The death of Diana came at a time of real turbulence for Elton.
Speaking in a British interview last year, Elton described how he and the People’s Princess had fallen out over pictures released in Elton and Gianni Versace’s joint project Royalty and Rock, a coffee table picture book.
Apparently, Diana feared that the Queen would not be best pleased with images of Diana and her boys interspersed with pictures of naked men.
In the summer of 1997, the pair managed to reconcile. Sadly, the reconciliation was during painful circumstances.
A mutual friend of both Elton and Diana, Giovanni Vercase, was assassinated in July, leading to Diana picking up the phone and reaching out to Elton.
Little did Elton know that Diana would meet a similar fate only six weeks later.
Probably, but I was surprised to see that the summer of 1971 was left out of the picture.
Discussing the period, Elton said, “it was extraordinary, and I just couldn’t believe what was going on”.
You would think that losing two close friends in the space of six weeks would make anyone’s biopic.
Rocketman is about Elton, not his celebrity friends.
Which explains why there is no mention of George Michael, Freddie Mercury, Giovvani Vercase, Diana, or Rod Stewart.
But Rocketman does give an in-depth look into Elton John’s family.
With the movie opening on the childhood of young Reggie Dwight, the audience is offered a previously unseen insight into the star’s early-life.
This aspect of Rocketman’s narrative is the one that has probably come under the most criticism.
In the movie, Stanley Dwight (Elton’s daddy) is portrayed in a less-than-favorable light.
The father figure in Rocketman is noticeably distant and is painted as a man with little faith in young Reggie’s musical potential.
Criticizing the portrayal of Stanley, Elton’s half-brother, Geoff Dwight, has spoken publicly.
Geoff argues that it was unfair to depict their father as a cold, unloving man who did not support his son’s ambitions.
“That’s not the Dad I remember, Dad had a big heart and he loved us all equally. He was incredibly proud of Elton and everything that he achieved”.
Obviously, considering the day-and-age, general attitudes towards the gay community were generally less than positive when Elton was young, but according to those that knew Elton’s dad, Stanley did not mind his son’s sexual preferences in the slightest.
On the subject, Geoff claims that his “Dad didn’t have a homophobic bone in his body. When Elton came out, he didn’t care, didn’t even mention it because it wasn’t important to him”.
This is something that James’ son, Stephen, is publicly disputing.
The scene in question involves a thuggish and heavy-handed Dick James calling John Reid (Elton’s ex-manager and lover) a “‘f****** poofter”.
This portrayal of Dick James is total slander, according to Stephen. Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, he said: “My father has been misrepresented and is really the victim of the film. That is not who my father was. He would never have used the F-word or a homophobic term like ‘poofter'”.
It’s clear that this movie has trodden on a few toes.
Elton John’s step-mother, Edna, has spoken publicly in Phillip Norman’s biography of Elton, saying that “Stanley’s been made out as an overbearing monster. But it’s just not true. He was a lovely man, a good father, and a loving husband”.
With evidence to hand during her interview with Norman, Edna reportedly brandished a receipt, which she had kept from 1963. The receipt proves that “un-supportive” Stanley bought young Elton his first piano. The piano in question was a second-hand Collingwood pianoforte that cost £68. To put that in perspective, nowadays, that would be equivalent to £1,400, which is about $1,800.
That’s quite a lot of dough to spend on your son if you didn’t support him.
In Rocketman, there’s a scene in which teenage Elton attempts to connect with his dad through music by going through his record collection. In the movie, Stanley is noticeably dismissive and shouts at Elton for rifling through his collection.
Geoff disputes this portrayal, telling The Daily Mail: “Dad encouraged all of us to be musical. He was in a swing band himself, so I see no reason why he’d have thwarted Elton”.
Elton’s home life was obviously different from that of his half brother, who was not a product of a broken home. Saying that, this possibly-askew version of the facts does present a man who, by other accounts, was rather nice, in a bad light.
The big difference between the two brothers’ accounts is that one of them is one of the most famous musicians in the world and his version has been turned into a biopic that will be seen by millions of people all over the world.
In the movie, we see young Elton crying in his bedroom window, watching his cold, collected father walk out of the family home without even a goodbye. Rocketman outrightly suggests that Stanley didn’t care.
According to Geoff, he did.
Discussing the end of his first marriage with his children, Geoff recalls that “Dad was devastated when he found out she had been seeing another man. He went round to his house…They chatted and I guess shared their sadness and Dad felt so sorry for her and her kids he ended up giving her a tenner before he left. That’s what he always told us”.
Perhaps the absence of Stanley in Elton’s upbringing led to the resentment that’s projected in Rocketman.
One thing that I would say, though, is that, in real life, it seems that Stanley did care a great deal for his son.
According to Geoff, on Stanley’s deathbed in 1991, someone said ‘”You’ve got four wonderful sons, Stan”, to which he replied, “I’ve got five wonderful sons”.
Let’s move on from the family drama; it’s a complicated web.
How about we discuss Rocketman’s depiction of Elton’s love life?
This won’t be messy! *sarcastic chuckle*.
In Rocketman, we see Elton get together with Renate Blauel, his first wife.
The movie does stick to the facts… in a way. The pair did meet in a recording studio, but what is depicted as a brief affair was, in reality, a four-year engagement.
Four years is ages; to trim the relationship down to one scene is a little misleading.
Elton’s second significant love affair was with a secretary called Linda Woodrow. The two shared a turbulent and emotionally pivotal relationship.
Speaking to Rolling Stone Magazine about the relationship, Elton stated: “It was a very stormy six months, after which I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I attempted suicide and various other things, during which Bernie and I wrote nil, absolutely nothing”.
For some reason, this story has been totally turned on its head.
In Rocketman, the Woodrow-romance is replaced by a story of Elton getting together with a fictional character called Arabella. The fictional romance ends with Elton’s long-serving friend, Bernie, telling Elton that the relationship is a sham.
This rewiring of the truth is a bit strange in that it was actually the Blues Singer, John Baldry, who convinced Elton that he was not in love with Lisa.
It’s interesting that they chose not to include Baldry in the biopic considering how pivotal the singer was to Elton John and his success.
Sadly not. The Beatles were not even in the works when young Reggie became Elton John.
Reggie changed his name by deed poll on May 7th, 1972. He got inspiration for “Elton” from blues legend, Elton Dean, and “John” came from the one and only Long John Baldry.
Baldry really did mean a great deal to Elton, who admired him for being a successful, openly gay musician.
Wonder why Baldry never made the cut?
Don’t go into the theatres expecting a factual play-by-play of Elton John’s life because you will be disappointed. Do go to the theatres to watch a movie that pulls you into the whirlwind that is our not-so-distant cultural history, through the, albeit skewed, lens of one of Britain’s most successful singer-songwriters.