Theatres, iPods, and video store shelves have become littered with rock docs in the last decade, some of them moving and authoritative (We Jam Econo), some of them moving and frightening (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, You’re Gonna Miss Me), some merely unmoving and capable only of playing to an artist’s vanity. What makes this Mike Fleiss and Mike Piscitelli-directed picture refreshing is that it neither attempts to serve as definitive history of its subject, nor to convince us that the subject needs deeper artistic consideration than he’s been given. Instead, it’s a portrait of the artist as he is.
Platinum records, a comfortable home, an adoring audience, life-long friends, a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with Black Sabbath), Ozzy Osbourne has all of that. What he hasn’t had much of in his lifetime is peace––alcoholism, drug addiction, and the low self-esteem common to people suffering from either disease, have plagued him throughout his life.
It’s hardly surprising that Ozzy has had troubles coping with fame. Having been raised in working class Birmingham, England he and his Black Sabbath bandmates (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward) had meteoric success in the early ‘70s, scoring gold and platinum albums galore while drugs poured in and cash poured out. None of that makes Sabbath or its individual members especially unique, but watching this, you realize how ill-equipped they all were—especially Ozzy. Suffering with undiagnosed dyslexia, Osbourne was a poor student who frequently ran afoul of the law; even Sabbath guitarist Iommi thought auditioning Osbourne for Sabbath would be a waste.
A loveable clown who only wanted to please his friends and audience, Osbourne fulfilled his role with remarkable resilience until the death of his father in the late ‘70s. Ozzy left Sabbath, then rejoined, recorded and toured behind the Never Say Die! album and was eventually fired from the band as his substance abuse rendered him increasingly unreliable and listless. In some ways, his pink slip may have been his salvation.
It was during that time that he teamed with Sharon Arden (later Osbourne), met guitarist Randy Rhoads, and recorded two enduring classics of heavy metal, Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman. What most of us probably didn’t realize was that his record deal with CBS came largely as a favor to Arden; without her he may have turned the corner into obscurity. Despite his status as a non-priority for his label, the two albums sold well and Osbourne was in the midst of launching a hugely successful career when Rhoads (along with two crew members) died in a Florida plane crash in early 1982.
Coupled with the disintegration of his first marriage, this sent the Ozzman on a harrowing journey through the ‘80s. The bat biting, the public drunkenness and gross-out contests with members of Mötley Crüe were but some of the antics that masked the very real pain he experienced. Despite numerous attempts to find long-term sobriety, Osbourne failed again and again, reaching an absolute nadir during the early days of the reality show The Osbournes.
His family offers unflinchingly honest assessments of the man––virtually all of his children acknowledge feeling that he was not a good father and his seeming inability to recall details about his children speaks for itself. There are other less-than-stellar points in his history––an arrest for domestic violence after he attempted to kill his wife during a prolonged alcoholic binge is but one.
We aren’t asked to forgive Osbourne for these shortcomings although it helps that his family appears to have done so themselves. In recent times Ozzy seems to have found sustainable sobriety and a sustaining sense of spirituality; he still performs with fervor, even if he’s not always consistent (footage of a soundcheck in which he struggles to stay in tune during “No More Tears” demonstrates his age and fragility). These and the sense that the truly childlike Osbourne has never really done wrong with malice––an emotion that he genuinely seems incapable of––make for a remarkably sad and oddly satisfying story about a man who may never really understand the immensity of his impact.
Bonus features include several deleted scenes, a Q&A with Ozzy and son Jack (who produced the film) as well as footage from the Tribeca Film Festival. The booklet accompanying the DVD features detailed notes from Chris Ayres, co-author of I Am Ozzy and Trust Me, I’m Dr. Ozzy.