Directed by Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscatelli (Schweet Productions)
I had the opportunity to attend The Tenth Annual Tribeca Film Festival this week to see the debut of the film GOD BLESS OZZY OSBOURNE. For those fans not into film having a movie shown at the festival is very prestigious, let alone premiere here. Many films, including GBOO will be sold to major studios and distributorships based on the response to the film. The premiere screening was attended by the Osbourne family, a huge crowd of fans, media outlets and music industry types. The press screening was the next day, followed by an interesting Q&A session which I was able to take part of. The movie is unlike any rock documentary I have ever seen and I believe it will really resonate with his many fans as well as the casual observer.
The tale of the tragic hero has been told over and over in stories. Often an iconic, charismatic figure comes along and makes a powerful contribution to society, only to be undone by a fatal flaw. Rarely in life to we see this figure able to rebound and win in the end. Many of myths and legends have been told and retold about Ozzy so many times that the facts get lost and truth about these events disappeared. Until now. Jack Osbourne, through his company Schweet Productions (formerly Jack-O Productions), along with his producing partners and the directors were able to present the over-arching story of Ozzy’s life that has never been told. As the ominous opening line of the film states “The directors of the film followed Ozzy around for over two years…..nearly everyone survived.”
Told from an intensely personal point of view where many details of John Michael Osbourne’s life are picked apart and analyzed under a microscope throughout the the films’ entirety. Many of the scenes are inter-cut with tour and concert footage and life on the road from several years ago (Zack Wylde was still in the band). Starting from his humble beginnings in abject poverty in post-World War II Aston, Birmingham UK, the film sets the scene with his childhood, a teenage stint in jail and his fateful meeting that led to the formation of BLACK SABBATH. This early back story of his struggles with school, drinking and crime (he said he might have had a life of crime, but “wasn’t any good at it”) and a healthy disregard for authority colors the context of his later actions. After forming the seminal metal band he shot to fame, particularly after the second album Paranoid, sending the band careening off into the stratosphere with a crazy lifestyle to match the dark subject matter of the songs.
The major turning point of the movie is when the topic turns to examine Ozzy’s first marriage and home life in the 1970′s. Described as an erratic and absentee father by his children, he was often gone from his home for long periods of time. First wife Thelma, daughter Jessica and son Louis suffered when he was around due to his partying lifestyle. Even into his solo career Ozzy’s problems continued to wreak havoc on his family’s lives as they dealt with the fallout. Later on when Ozzy and Sharon had married and had their own family, his behavior worsened. This directly affected them exponentially in relation to his success and all of the excesses that came with it. In addition to disappearances and wild behavior, Ozzy was on occasion extremely violent too. Many people don’t understand the psychology of addiction and it’s not as simple as saying no, not wanting to use or being confronted with the risk of losing everything. This film takes a brave look at this topic. These problems compound over the years and the price remains steep for loved ones. Ozzy’s family managed to stick by him in spite of the huge emotional cost to themselves. Sharon Osbourne’s interview segments are painful at times, but she couches everything with a sarcastic gallows humor that is pure Sharon. Even now Ozzy couldn’t recall the birth date of his first child Jessica, which details how serious the specter of addiction can be.
One of the most striking things about the film is how brutal and unflinching everyone is about the facts, most of all Ozzy himself. Many of the stories are unflattering and awful and other bio pictures would have glossed over the truth in fawning, feckless tribute. Co-directors Mike Piscitelli and Mike Fleiss (producer of the Hostel movies and the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-make series) do a great job of catching Ozzy and his family in very intimate moments. It never feels like an interrogation, but the questions are often probing and unbiased all the way through. There are some humorous moments that lighten things up from time to time, but his life is seen for the most part with a harsh lens. This is also the first time we have had a chance to meet and hear from children Jessica, Louis and Aimee who all open up for the first time on camera, as well as Jack and Kelly who also share like never before. Piscitelli in particular was able to get Ozzy to become so candid about himself that he was nicknamed the “Nazi therapist”!
Ozzy managed to bottom out for the umpteenth time (he has attempted to get sober 40-50 times an attended at least 10 rehabs in his life by his count). Following the popular, but contentious The Osbourne’s television show when Jack finally got clean and sober, it inspired his father to once and for make an honest attempt at sobriety and try to consider the damage his actions caused. Amazingly it has stuck for five years now. His relationship with his family, including his children from both marriages, three sisters and a brother are all repaired and have never been better.
Ultimately this is an uplifting story of wild success, excess, failure, loss and eventual redemption. Addiction plus celebrity often equals death. Ozzy has come through to the other side, unlike many of his peers. He is still here and quite grateful to share his story. As he said of himself at the press conference his story is one of “survival”.
At the press conference following the screening I asked Ozzy if he ever worried if his many exploits and antics in the past would ever outshine his musical legacy. He said “No. Because I can’t change the past, but I can try to make a better future for me and my family.”
(Special thanks to the TFF staff , the makers of GBOO and the team at BWR Public Relations for all of their help.)
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes