God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, a documentary about the life and times of the Prince of Darkness, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this Sunday.
What could have been a glossy, fawning tribute to the most visible face in heavy metal music history—especially considering it was co-produced by his son, Jack—actually turned out to be a remarkably evenhanded look at Ozzy’s monumental musical influence as well as his less exemplary life as an addict and often-absent father.
The rock doc starts with Osbourne’s poor childhood in the cramped quarters of inner-city Birmingham, England, and goes up to his long-sought sobriety following the end of the water-cooler fodder reality series The Osbournes.
In Ozzy’s own words, “nothing really happened” in his life until he first heard the Beatles. “It was like someone had turned the world on to me,” said the Ozzman regarding his first exposure to “She Loves You.” “I knew I was going to be a rock star the rest of my life.” (Speaking of Beatles, Sir Paul is one of the numerous interviewees paying tribute to Ozzy’s impact).
After countless odd jobs and a six-week prison detour for minor burglary, Ozzy auditioned to be singer in a band that included Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Bill Ward. Although they initially worried he was too much of a class clown, his unique vocal timbre—and the fact he owned some vital stage equipment—soon changed their minds and the lineup that would become Black Sabbath was solidified.
Butler, Iommi and Ward all appear as candid talking heads, narrating an interesting parade of tidbits for fans of the music, (Iommi suggested they move toward a darker sound after realizing scary movies didn’t yet have a rock music counterpart), as well as those interested in sordid tales (Butler says the band would have cereal boxes of cocaine delivered to them in the studio while recording Black Sabbath Vol. 4, which not coincidentally contains the track “Snowblind.”)
The movie skips ahead to Never Say Die!—which Ozzy frankly calls “the worst album I’ve ever been involved in”—to address his firing from Sabbath and his career resurrection in the form of the astonishingly fast-fingered guitarist Randy Rhoads, his lead guitarist, co-writer and best mate until a plane crash claimed Rhoads’ life in 1982 at 25 years old.
While the movie does refrain from delving into certain parts of Ozzy’s life as much as common-sense curiosity would seem to dictate (the fact that wife/manager Sharon stayed with him in spite of drunken beatings and an attempted strangulation cries out for explanation), the film deserves lauds for casting a skeptical eye on Ozzy’s substance-fueled years of partying.
For instance, when recounting Ozzy’s infamous ’80s tour with Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee offers up some hearty laughs but tempers his “boys will be boys” nostalgia by acknowledging Ozzy took his life to such extremes that he wasn’t the kind of person you actually wanted to spend too much time with (you’ll just have to see the movie to learn why).
Furthermore, interviews with his five children—including non-public figure offspring Louis and Jessica by his first wife, Thelma—portray him as an absentee father even when he was physically present due to his mind-numbing abuse of pills, cocaine and liquor.
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s daughter Kelly who actually seems to harbor the freshest wounds: Even though his first two children were utterly neglected by their father (the cameras reveal he doesn’t know the year of Jessica’s birth), they both seem to have come to terms with their virtual abandonment. Kelly, however, still seemed very emotional when recalling her father using drugs to escape when Sharon was diagnosed with cancer during the filming of The Osbournes.
According to Sharon, it was actually Jack who brought Ozzy into his current five-year-and-counting sobriety spree. Both Jack and Kelly became addicted to various substances in their teenage years (all while MTV’s cameras rolled), and Sharon believes it was Jack’s move toward sobriety that “shamed” Ozzy into finally besting his demons.
Overall, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne may not answer the question “What makes Ozzy act so… Ozzy-like?”, but it’s hardly a fluffy tribute. This documentary succeeds in offering a balanced portrait of a man who made many mistakes over the course of his addiction-riddled life and also happens to be one of the most influential hard rock singers ever. Whether you’re a fan of Ozzy the singer, the mumbling MTV celebrity or the near-mythical Prince of Darkness, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne is a film well-worth checking out.
Some interesting bits of trivia from the film:
Ozzy’s father Jack Osbourne designed and produced the iconic Black Sabbath crosses at his factory for his son’s band.
Regarding the infamous incident of biting the head off of a dove, Ozzy said, “It was not a publicity stunt: I was just out of my mind.”
Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut was recorded in twelve hours for “about ten bucks.”
Ozzy didn’t get his driver’s license until he went sober in the mid ’00s.
The first gold record he ever got was inscribed to “Ossie Osbourne.”
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