God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, opens with footage of the legendary singer’s humorously mundane backstage preparations, showing him running through vocal exercises, riding a stationary bike, jumping rope and applying his signature eye makeup. He putters around like the 60-year-old man he was at the time of filming, albeit one with black fingernails and dyed hair. It’s only as the documentary by Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli delves deeper into his virulent, decades-long addiction that we see these rituals for what they are: a man working to stay sober and strong for what he loves most in life, what has given his life the most meaning — performing.
Filmed during two years on the road with the rock star, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne offers fans plenty of great footage of performances, photos and a wealth of intimate interviews, but it stops just short of taking a more critical look at its troubled subject.
We’re used to seeing old photos and clips of Ozzy bombed out of his mind played for laughs, whether it’s in the early days of Black Sabbath or on the MTV reality show The Osbournes. Initially, the tone of the film is funny in the way that anything Ozzy does is. It’s surreal to watch the man once known for biting the head off a live bat relaxing in luxurious hotel rooms and being smeared with face cream by his wife. Eventually, it becomes clear that what fans have cheered on all these years is definitely not kooky or cool. It goes from a goat-throwing good time to a disturbing portrait of addiction so smoothly that it’s admirable. Of course, Ozzy’s tumultuous life is no secret to his fans; it’s part of the appeal and also what Ozzy trades on still to a certain extent, but it’s shocking to be immersed in its real-life fallout.
Beginning with Ozzy’s destitute childhood in Birmingham, England, where the future promised factory work, prison or the army, to the lowest points of his addiction, very little is held back. The most bizarre incidents related in the film, such as when he actually did bite the head off of a live dove during an A&R meeting or when he smeared his own feces on his hotel room wall, are colored by the knowledge that these were the actions of a man mired in sickness.
Although there is plenty of brutal honesty, the filmmakers tiptoe around some questions. Ozzy’s children from both marriages speak bluntly about his absence, their resentment and, in the case of Aimee, Jack and Kelly Osbourne, their disgust watching their father in the throes of addiction. However, no one expresses their feelings about the reality series, taped at the height of Ozzy’s addiction, and how they felt about its reception among audiences eager to see what would baffle the nearly comatose rock star next. Do they regret it? That Aimee appears in God Bless Ozzy Osbourne and refused to be a part of the show says a lot; that Jack is one of the producers does, too.
The matter of domestic abuse is also treated too delicately. Ozzy matter-of-factly presents photos of Sharon’s injuries from their fights, and Sharon blankly relates the night he tried to strangle her to death. “Fabulous,” she says with a tight grin, but doesn’t explain why she stayed with a man who attempted to kill her. Instead of probing the fascinating and somewhat troubling connection between Sharon and Ozzy, the documentary switches to a tour of his hometown. They obviously adore one another and egg each other on; it was Sharon’s idea to let doves loose during an A&R meeting, although Ozzy took it upon himself to improvise with the aforementioned mangling. It’s presented as sort of adorably dysfunctional relationship, but not fully explored beyond that. Sharon chalks it all up to Ozzy’s low self-esteem, and Ozzy just shrugs it off by saying he was wasted. He shows regret and sadness over his failures as a father but blames everything on the drugs and booze, and describes waking up in a jail cell to discover he tried to kill Sharon during a blackout yet doesn’t say what, if anything, he learned from the experience.
The happiness Ozzy has found in sobriety is clear, and his children and Sharon relate how proud they are of him and how it’s improved their relationships with him. Kelly tearfully describes how he can stand up straight now, how he’s not bowed down with shame at his own failings, and how amazing it is to finally have the father she always wanted.
God Bless Ozzy Osbourne ends on a hopeful note, and it definitely has a lot to offer fans of both Ozzy and of music documentaries. Although it doesn’t quite crack its subject wide open, it certainly offers quite a look at an extraordinary figure in music.
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