Interview with Rudi Dolezal – Part. 2
Mis à jour : 7 août 2020
"If Freddie Mercury wouldn't become a rockstar, he might have become a filmmaker"
Rudi Dolezal started his career boldly in the mid-70s, when the music video genre was taking its first steps. He then played a decisive role and founded with Hannes Rossacher his own production company, DoRo, to create videos for major German-speaking and international artists.
Why did he film them? What was so special about his collaboration with Queen and especially Freddie Mercury? What does it represent in his filmography?
You have covered many artists : from Tom Waits to David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen etc. But you have been particularly close to Freddie Mercury, Whitney Houston and Frank Zappa. Did they have anything in common ? What made Freddie Mercury stand out ?
Rudi Dolezal : Well, I have been close to quite a few people. I would say that, and that includes also Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones -but especially Keith Richards, it also includes David Bowie. David Bowie is actually -unfortunately he's in heaven [David Bowie died in 2016] - but he's right after Freddie the person that I did the most filming with. Frank Zappa was my first mentor, so to say, he started with me what I would call rock'n'roll film making in the DoRo's spirit. And then Freddie Mercury was definitely my best friend. And I’m very careful with the word “friend”. If I'm saying “my friend Freddie”, and I'm calling a book that, that’s because he said that very often to me, and there is people still alive today so called in a circle including Peter Freestone* for example [*Freddie Mercury's former personal assistant], who would say independently that was a friendship and of course it was mainly a creative friendship but also a personal friendship.
So if I called friends, I would maybe also have David Bowie call a friend, Keith Richards call a friend, Whitney Houston call a friend, yes that's true. And Frank Zappa was a friend because that was the first one where we had a lot of contact and I came, then I flew to Los Angeles and we met, and also the last ever recording he did he called me in to film that.
It's the great thing about my job : that I was not only working with one artist but with other artists. For some time I was also very close to Sting, I mean I was filming Sting in the Maracanã Stadium in Rio De Janeiro and we spent a night in jail together. We hadn’t done anything bad but it’s still an adventure to spend a night, oh it was 6 hours or something! So I had adventures with people, intensive, but also German people like Peter Maffay who is a really good friend of mine. Falco was a good friend. But I became really careful with the word.
Now...Frank Zappa was in a league of his own, nobody was like Frank Zappa because he was intelligent, cynical, very strong with words for his time, and he was an intelligent monster. Very much similar were to me Freddie Mercury and Whitney Houston. By the way they also liked each other’s voices a lot. I mean Freddie is more or less responsible for Whitney wanting a film of mine, I say it in my program, but it's true. She saw the “Freddie Untold Story” which was unreleased at the time in 1999, and she saw Rolling Stones in Argentina ["Freddie Mercury - The untold story" and "Argentina '98", documentaries directed by Rudi] and then she stopped and said : “I want you to do a film like this about me”. That was how Whitney was fascinated and how I got so close to her.
Then some things developed out of the friendship with Freddie Mercury. For example David Bowie and Freddie were not great friends but they knew and respected each other. They sang a song together “Under Pressure”. I did a video for David because he knew my work for Queen, or George Michael came to me because we met at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert which I co-directed and co-produced and he liked my work with Queen.
So as much as for Queen maybe “Rock Me Amadeus” was an entrance card or like a business card to say “OK this guy of “Rock Me Amadeus” he really knows how to do videos” to even get close to the chance of directing a Queen video. The more Queen videos I did, in London and in America, people said “Oh this is the guy who works with... Oh he also worked with the Rolling Stones and he did ''Rock Me Amadeus'' Wow!” It didn't matter that I was from Austria, which at that time was still a problem. Most of the people in America thought “This is Austria? Are you a communist?” 'Cause they thought Austria, Hungary and whatever...
So Whitney and Freddie have something in common. Frank Zappa was the cynical... Frank Zappa was once running for president, that was really funny, Zappa for President and it was like Ronald Reagan. We thought Ronald Reagan was a bad president for the United-States, we had no idea what would come! So he was different. They are all a little bit... what is maybe something... It's an interesting question I was never asked this before by the way!
The thing is that I was always interested in outstanding people who were doing something special, who had some fascination and the fascination element was very different. I mean I was also fascinated by Miles Davis. Because what only a few people know, before I did the Rolling Stones, my very first music things or very early music things were about jazz musicians. Why? Because when I started in my program when I was 17-18-19 to start to introduce music 15-20 minute films (it was a one-hour program), there’s a lot of jazz festivals in Vienna, and Vienna is a very good jazz city and they were easier to approach than the rockstars because we didn't have MTV at the time, there was no record company organizing an interview. I was standing at the airport when Frank Zappa arrived and said “Hi ! My name is Rudi Dolezal. Can I do an interview this afternoon?”. This is how I did television at the time. There was nobody who was calling. I was a pioneer. And a lot of them were jazz artists, so also if they were great, because I was a musician I could distinguish good musicians from bad musicians.
So that what is in common, they're fascinating in a way. Keith Richards is the person who, he once said in an interview with me “Sex and drugs and rock'n’roll, the Rolling Stones invented all three”. He thinks the Rolling Stones invented sex, which of course is a joke. But he has an attitude that fascinated me. And he was a cool guy in a way that was, until these days, outstanding.
There must always be something fascinating for me or something very challenging. Like when somebody said, same thing for Miles Davis [Rudi filmed Miles Davis' last appearance at the Montreux Festival in July 1991, just a few months before his death], they said “he hates cameramen”, well that was the guy I wanted to film! [laughter] Yeah gentlemen, let’s see when I can do it better and I did a movie which won a Grammy ["Miles Davis & Quincy Jones: Live at Montreux"] ! The other Grammy I won, I won for Miles Davis and I won it for Freddie Mercury. So what I mean is the fascination must be there.
But on the other hand, it was always the easiest work, to work with the big stars. Because the big, really big stars, they were easy to work with. Difficult are the people who think they are stars and they make themselves divas and then they act like assholes. These are the people I try to, in the long run, identify and not work anymore with. Difficult are people who think they are stars and they make themselves divas and then they act like asshole. This is the people I try to, in a long run, identify and not work anymore.
When I said to Freddie Mercury “You wanna have that, I wanna have that feeling of the light of the upcoming sun, you have to be at 5 in the morning at make-up 'cause you have to be ready at 6”. He was at 5 in the make-up. And he didn't have say….because he knew exactly why I said that! And the same thing with David Bowie, and the same thing with Whitney Houston.
So that what combines them : apart from the voices of Freddie and Whitney because they have both voices with extreme big ranges of tone. Whitney in her good time as well as Freddie which was outstanding. Apart from those two I would say everybody was different.
Freddie Mercury studied graphics and design. He created the logo of his band, he was particularly attentive to what he wore on stage and he was keen on painting. In what way was he particularly attached to his image and, generally speaking, to any visual representations ?
Rudi Dolezal : Well, I am always saying that Freddie Mercury was an overall artist. Freddie Mercury was not only one of the greatest singers in the world, he was not only the first front performer that conquered stadiums -long before the Rolling Stones, who would now perfectly do this. But Queen was started in South America a long time before anybody else.
He was not only a great musician (piano player, composer) but he was an artist overall : he was interested in art, he was interested in living like an artist, a little bit like a bohemian (of the French tradition actually). So this is why I never see Freddie only as a musician, he had a good taste in clothing, but also in furniture, but also in choosing the right house, or choosing a painting, or poems, or theater, or opera… He just was very interested in art, and clever, an amazingly fast learning person. So...full stop!
Saying that, he was also...if he wouldn’t become a rockstar, he might have become a filmmaker. Cause he was the first musician / singer / front man I met -and at the time I worked with the Stones already, Tina Turner, Falco of course…- he was the first one who really had a visual thinking. It’s what I describe in my book in the chapter called “Ping pong”. Which is the ping pong between his ideas and my ideas, because he could look through the camera and discuss with me the framing, whereas a lot of musicians were only thinking : “Ok Rudi, what do you want me to do?” and they didn’t even care; first they trusted me, but also they didn’t understand! Like the differences between a close up like this and a close up like this. But Freddie Mercury knew exactly how he wanted it and the great thing and why he was always choosing me in the end as a director was we then had a mutual understanding where he didn’t have to say things. He just looked at me and I knew what he meant. And that...I really really miss because that, I never had with any other artist again. And if I am saying that I am getting sad and almost having tears in my eyes. Because that was a kind of understanding and a kind of -you know- helping the other to get a new idea and the quality thing that…
With Frank Zappa it was different, I was a kid with Frank Zappa. With Freddie, I was already a director. With Frank, I was the boy who learned and he was a big master. I had some good ideas and everything, and I was opening my ears, and my eyes and my heart, and understood what he was about.
But with Freddie, I had already interesting stuff done, though I was always humble. When people say, especially in Queen, and they’re posting photographs and then they write “Rudi Dolezal, the legend”,I usually make a comment and say well “Freddie Mercury is a legend, I’m only the filmmaker”. Cause I’m not a legend, you know...yeah I try to make good films, good videos, true, quality is my trade mark, but I’m not a legend. I don’t wanna be called a legend because Mick Jagger once said to me something which I remember : “Rudi, if you start to believe your own press release, you are on the way down”.
I read press releases every week now, there’s in Arte next Friday one of my films [Whitney – Can I be me?], yeah of course they say the famous blablabla, yeah okay great, nice...my mother was always very happy to read that, and funnily enough, my sons, which I didn’t think, are a little bit proud of their father because when they were like 12-13, I was completely uncool. “Papa, can you not come? You’re so uncool with my friends”. But now...especially -Benny who is also getting a young man very quickly (he is now almost 14)- they’re realizing: “Hey, I mean – first of all, that wasn’t easy what daddy was doing with us, with getting us through the most difficult years -and I mean he does quite cool stuff. Because they start to like musicians that I worked with. It was so funny one day when one of my boys, I think it was Ruby... was discovering I have a very big CD collection which I don’t know what to do with, I don’t wanna sell it and I don’t throw it away – I have something like 15 000 CD’s, 30 000 vinyl long play albums, and I just keep them. I don’t play them anymore, cause usually most of the stuff you have downloads but still...when they were checking out, and finally saw things like Dr Dre and you know the cool rappers, and hip hop...
“What? You have these CDs?”
“Not only have I got the CD, I worked with him!”
Like they had to become 14-15 to realize that! Like one day, my little one came home, I remember, he was in primary school, and he said : “Papa, is it true that you worked with Michael Jackson?” I said : “Yes”.
“They said in school : “your daddy worked with Michael Jackson”, and the other said : “no, we don’t believe that, can you prove it?” and when you go on the internet and look up, you’ll see directed by Rudi Dolezal, that’s your papa”.
And I was not forcing it on them, I was letting them come. Because I didn’t say : “Oh, I’m so good and this, and that”. When now my older one was sending me a WhatsApp from the first one in Vienna, when he was “Fridays for future”* demonstrating without telling me, I said : “Well, I must have done something right because that’s absolutely, I think that’s very cool”. And so..I don’t know what the question was, but that was my answer!
* Reference to the Friday climate events initiated by Greta Thunberg
You shot 32 videos with the members of Queen. What did you learn from working with them? What does this collaboration represent in your filmography?
Rudi Dolezal : I think that Falco [German-speaking artist], for whom I directed all the videos, many of the Falco videos co-directed by Rossacher but not all of them, that was the most perfect visual overall, body of work in terms of music videos. The ideas that were done starting with “Rock me Amadeus” and going through “Out of the dark”, the last one.
But with Queen that was the most intensive learning period cause it was an international artist from the start. Falco was my best friend and I knew him when I was 17 and he was 18 -before he was Falco [His real name was Johann Hölzel], when he was playing in a small band. But Queen were already superstars when they asked me to direct a video. So it was an honor, it was a challenge, it was like -I mean I love the Falco videos and I love Falco, but it was like you’re playing in the Austrian German league Football or you’re playing in the Champions league and you win the Champions league, that’s the difference!
So I learned a lot from Queen, I am still friends with Brian and Roger until this day -I was just communicating with Brian last week, and especially after his heart attack we were in close contact. But of course Freddie was the biggest influence. Freddie was one of my three mentors, if I say... My first mentor was Frank Zappa, then Mr Keith Richards was contributing something of the Rolling Stones, and then Freddie Mercury was my last mentor in terms of a person where I learned a lot.
But I also learned a lot from Brian May and Roger Taylor – don’t get me wrong! But Freddie, with his visual understanding being almost a filmmaker himself, was very challenging, and very fast, and very demanding. Brian is a very nice guy you know, he also had great ideas and we did great videos together -Anita Dobson* I remember- and I was following him on a solo tour in South America. With Roger we did great videos - Happiness for example. At that time we were already good friends...but Freddie was sort of so demanding, and so ta ta ta ta ta…! That you had to be always on your toes and then I am writing about this in the book My friend Freddie but then also in quiet moments, he gave me a few of the rules, things that are important in life as an artist (not life in general but life as an artist). Which I follow until this day. One of which was “never try to be second best. And always go for the impossible”.
*Anita Dobson is a British actress, known in particular for her role in the 1980s in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. In 1986, guitarist Brian May (whom she later married) worked with her on her first album, most noted for the song Anyone Can Fall in Love, which reached number four on the UK Singles Chart.
As a director, how do you view the work of French choreographer Maurice Bejart on the music of Queen? Were you surprised by the result?
[Maurice Béjart is a French dancer and choreographer, who died in 2007. In December 1996, he created a ballet to the music of Queen, a tribute to the youth, life and victims of AIDS - in particular his favourite dancer Jorge Donn and Freddie Mercury, who died at the same age and of the same disease. The Paris premiere of this ballet took place at the Théâtre de Chaillot on January 17, 1997. During this show, Brian May and Roger Taylor John Deacon gave a live performance of " The show must go on " with Elton John on vocals. That was unfortunately be John Deacon's last appearance with the band.]
Rudi Dolezal : I think his work was extraordinary, very very very good and I think that it was great art, and I loved it and I love it until today. I was not surprised because he’s an excellent artist himself. As a lot of things with Queen, and Queen with Freddie Mercury and Brian May, Roger Taylor's projects they always look to work with project, with the best of the best in the field. I also, if I remember correctly, I was using this footage in one of my videos. I think it was the one where Elton John was singing the song... it was an Aids thing in Paris with the Bejart Ballet and that was for ''Queen +'' actually it was made to become ''Greatest Flix III'' but it was never released. I think Elton John performed it.
Yes, The Show Must Go On in 1997
Rudi Dolezal : Ok and then Queen asked me to use the footage and edit a video out of it together with other footage of, and therefore I even had the pleasure or the honor of using some of his footage. I never met him, I never met him personally. I would have liked to meet him at the time. I think it was great and it also shows, if I may say something which you have not asked me, I also have quite a long history, I worked with quite a lot of French artists: Guesch Patti, Indochine, Vanessa Paradis.
Later in my YouTube Channel [Rudi Dolezal’s DoRo TV] I would have all this on, but I have to write the book now. Because don't forget and you can mention this, I have the biggest archive in continental Europe of filmed music. I have 40 000 hours of music and by only. I mean film material with music.
So one of the series I did, way back in the 90's I think, late 90's was for German Austrian Swiss television and it was called ''Scene'' like the scene. ''Scene Paris'', ''Scene Rio''. What is the music scene in Paris, what is the music scene in Rio, what is the music scene in Budapest, what is the music scene in whatever. And I did a one hour music scene in Sidney, Australia. And I was doing a whole special on French artists at that time : Guesch Patti, Indochine and what was the 2 guys, unfortunately he was a heroin addict... What was it called?
Telephone? [French rock band, playing in the first part of the Rolling Stones concert in France]
Rudi Dolezal : No he was a bigger guy and there was a woman, something with M...
Les Rita Mitsouko?
Rudi Dolezal : Yes that is! Rita Mitsouko*. Great videos, also Guesch Patti**, phenomenal video. I interviewed Guesch Patti in Paris in a café. And I interviewed Indochine [pop rock band] and so. Unfortunately my French is not very well although I am planning to do a reading of one or two chapters of my book myself in French [Rudi plans to give a reading in Paris in 2021 to present his book to French-speaking fans]. Because if I rehearse it, I can sort of read it good enough. I was learning for years in school and I remember when I was filming people like Alan Stivell*** for example, who was only singing in French, you know, because he was of Celtic origin. I was the only little bit French-speaking person.
But anyway I like the French language and I want to use also this book tour -or the first of tours to the Queen fan clubs and then later the book tour- that I will reactivate some of my languages 'cause I also know a little bit of Italian, and I also know a little bit of Spanish. Because communication is so important.
* Les Rita Mitsouko = Name of a French pop-rock singer-songwriter duo, set up in 1979 and composed of Catherine Ringer and Fred Chichin
** Guesch Patti = French dancer, choreographer and singer
*** Alan Stivell is a singer-songwriter who revolutionized French Breton music.
As a reminder:
Rudi's book will be released in 11 languages and you can always pre-order a signed copy on this secure site: https://www.myfriendfreddie.com/
It's an original idea from Rudi, as he explained to me during our conversation: "It is the first time I have ever heard that when somebody is still writing a book, you can already secure a copy - that’s something which I think has never been done before, especially with a signed copy”.
You can also find Rudi on social networks:
- on his Instagram:@rudi_dolezal
- on his official Facebook page (Rudi Dolezal official) : https://www.facebook.com/Rudi-Dolezal-official-101706558272297
- on his Twitter account: @DolezalRudi
- on its YouTube channel (Rudi Dolezal's DoRo TV) : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsaZF4OKvhtGmOxPJUsKLMg/feed
As Rudi mentions in this interview, he reserves a signed certificate and some benefits for his first 2,500 subscribers. If you haven't subscribed yet, don't hesitate to do so, it's free!
Rudi also hosts a live show every Sunday at 8pm, called 'Rudi Backstage'. It's a chance to hear him tell anecdotes, answer questions from his followers, and follow his news, while chatting with fans from all over the world! You can see her live on Instagram, Facebook (official page) and her YouTube channel.
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