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RANDY RHOADS - REFLECTIONS OF A GUITAR ICON review

RANDY RHOADS - REFLECTIONS OF A GUITAR ICON (hereafter simply referred to as "REFLECTIONS") is directed by Andre Relis and narrated by Tracii Guns. The film features new interviews and archival footage/interviews with names including Frankie Banali, Drew Forsyth, Doug Aldrich, Rudy Sarzo, and other family members/associates/fellow musicians.

Randy Rhoads began his musical career in Southern California in the 1970s, first rising to prominence with the original incarnation of Quiet Riot, despite their hurdles in getting signed to a record deal. Rhoads advanced his career by getting a gig with Ozzy Osbourne following Osbourne's being fired by Black Sabbath. Despite recording two amazing albums with the Prince of Darkness and embarking upon epic tour dates on the live stage, his life was cut tragically short at age 25 in a plane accident. 40 years later, Rhoads remains one of the most famous rock guitarists despite his all-too-short career, continuing to receive recognition, honors, and awards, while standing as a massive influence to many a guitarist.

REFLECTIONS isn't the first documentary that's been made on Randy Rhoads. It's almost certainly not going to be the last. But being a massive rock/metal fan, I'm someone who'll watch whatever comes out. Clocking in at a mere 85 minutes, REFLECTIONS flies by with breakneck pacing while still managing to pack a good deal of information into its short running time; it never feels drawn out or awkwardly paced. And while Tracii Guns is underused as the narrator (most of the talk in the movie is from the interviewees), he's a good choice for the subject as someone who appreciated and respected Rhoads' work. Despite a few flaws that can't be ignored, it's a good enough documentary on a guitar icon. You'll learn more from books on the subject, but even this long-time Rhoads fan learned a few new and interesting facts along the way.

Where I will give this documentary the most credit is the time and detail it spends on Rhoads' Quiet Riot years. I was impressed to hear how much of the original music from the area was featured here, as well as the archival interviews and footage, including time spent with the band's fan club president, photographers, and others. It's a great look at a bygone era of a band who tore up stages on the Sunset Strip yet was criminally overlooked by record companies. I can't say how much of this footage is newly released/rare/unique to this particular documentary, but let me put it this way - This fan of Randy Rhoads saw and heard plenty of early Quiet Riot stuff that wasn't immediately familiar or recognizable. Hearing vintage recordings from this era, including a few I didn't even know existed that the band put out with the hopes of landing a record deal, was a revelation. Honestly, I would've paid full price just to get a fuller doc on the early years of Quiet Riot, as that would've been a great standalone story unto itself. Strangely, the cover art of the QUIET RIOT II album featuring Rhoads, featuring the band sharing a locker room with football players, is never once shown in the documentary, even though an interviewee is clearly in a set modeled after it.

Unfortunately, when we get into the Ozzy Osbourne years, the documentary goes, as Ozzy once put in in a song lyric, off the rails. The Ozzy portion of the movie is considerably shorter than the Quiet Riot portion and feels rushed by comparison. The single biggest flaw of this documentary, however, is its failure to utilize actual Ozzy Osbourne era Randy Rhoads recordings. (The one thing we do here from this era is Randy playing some random riffs at a rehearsal.) Instead, we get the most generic rock stock music imaginable. Completely unforgivable in a documentary that's supposed to be around Randy Rhoads. I understand that this was likely a money issue/the production was likely unable to secure the costs of licensing the music, but in a documentary that's about Mr. Rhoads, the only guitar work we should be hearing is his own (okay, maybe one exception to that rule, but we'll get to that in a little bit). One scene evens shows a vinyl copy of the DIARY OF A MADMAN Ozzy record, yet the "back" shot shown a few seconds later is a shot of the remastered CD version, not the LP. Weird.

The other biggest issue of the documentary is the sheer laziness and inaccuracy when it comes to how the plane crash that claims Randy's life is shown. This shouldn't have been hard to do, but they manage to botch this in the worst possible way. The stock footage shows about three different airplanes that look nothing alike. And in the footage that shows the plane descending, presumably to represent the descent that resulted in the crash, the plane's flaps are clearly down (this wouldn't be done unless the pilot of the plane was doing a deliberate landing). How hard is it to a) show the same airplane (or at least one of the same make and model) in all the airplane scenes, and b) not use a shot of the plane's flaps down when depicting the descent that would lead to the crash?

Fortunately, the ending fares better, with Randy being honored posthumously by multiple institutions, showing his legacy living on. The credits are even played alongside guitarists playing Randy's best-known riffs, showing how he remains an influence even four decades after his death. It's just too bad this is where the majority of Randy-era Ozzy riffs in the movie are heard, even if they're played by fans rather than the late guitarist himself.

It's another Randy Rhoads documentary. It won't be the last, I'm sure. Put simply, when REFLECTIONS is handling the early days of Randy's life and when he's being honored posthumously, the film does a fantastic job with its subject. Unfortunately, the generic stock music of the Ozzy era and poor handling of the plane crash footage are difficult to ignore and weigh down what's an otherwise solid enough film. People who want to learn about Randy's life and don't have the time to read books on the subject (Kelli Garni's and Rudy Sarzo's come highly recommended in that regard) will get a lot out of what's to be had here, flaws aside. Marginally recommended.

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