A cinematic biography of the man on the silver mountain whose voice resonates through the vales and beyond.
“Rainbows have always made me realize how insignificant we can be in the grand scheme of things,” Ronnie James Dio told yours truly ages ago, and he was right – only the artist who returned to the wonder of this nature phenomenon again and again and who seemed to be the force of nature had manifested himself as the avatar of fantasies which held importance for millions of lesser mortals all the world over. Still, the multitudes often marveled: who was the person behind the iron mask? who was the little man with a huge voice? who was the singer who defined heavy metal? Here is the answer to those questions, and much more, a film arriving a year after his autobiography “Rainbow In The Dark” – in the year when he would have turned eighty – got published but taking the account of Dio’s life much further, right to its dramatic denouement. His passing left an enormous void in many a heart, and in the world as a whole. And that’s where the two-hour-long breathless run of “Dreamers Never Die” starts – in the void.
The spectators get to visit Ronnie’s home, back in the day when he inhabited it and today when his presence is still felt in every memento his widow Wendy’s pointing out – excluding gold discs he never cared for but including his attire and his trumpet: the original source of the voice that reverberates down the years and the actual beginning of the great warbler’s biography which is told in this movie in the sincerest way possible, through his own archival reminiscences and interviews with his friends, family members and fellow musicians, all of them his fans. Some of them sound surprised recalling Ronnie had started out before THE BEATLES hit the big time, in the late ’50s, and performed “The Way Of Love” way before Cher turned the ballad into a hit – there are scratchy old records spun on screen to weave the chronological yarn, the platters preserving for posterity his mastery of brass and vocals yet never officially reissued – when playing pop tunes meant rebellion, and Ronald Padavona was bold enough to borrow his pseudonym from a mobster.
It’s more than fascinating to watch the grainy color footage of Dio and THE PROPHETS and THE ELECTRIC ELVES from the next decade, once the suits got discarded in favor of jeans and shirts, and then kaftans, and the singer’s previously clean-cut image, fitting for THE RED CAPS, flowered into fashionable scruffiness; and it’s more than captivating to listen to the story of Dio’s determination to pursue artistic career despite his academic success and future as a pharmacist and a road accident which resulted in his cohort’s tragic death and him having a lot of stitches in his scalp. Of course, the hair grew back, and grew much longer, as seen not only in an array of dusted-off photos but also in a rare concert video of ELF, signaling Ronnie’s embracing of heavy rock and the advent of Dio as we know him.
An audition for the legendary Clive Davies and DEEP PURPLE’s rhythm section – the event described from both sides, by guitarist Dave Feistein, the Ronnie’s cousin and colleague, and by Roger Glover who ended up producing “the four midgets” – sealed the deal and took Dio’s band from bars to arenas, opening for their British heroes and impressing Glenn Hughes, who possesses an equally powerful set of pipes and is still in awe of Ronnie’s voice and character, as captured here, and, more importantly, a kindred spirit Ritchie Blackmore, who’s heard in the documentary as a voiceover from the past, as is Vivian Campbell. Thus, the medieval metal of RAINBOW was born, and Dio morphed into the man on a silver mountain of fame and fortune, the beacon for the likes of Rob Halford and Lita Ford, and a supreme lyricist, a sage as bassist Rudy Sarzo puts it; yet while Ronnie’s wordsmithery gets intermittently touched upon in the course of the movie, the watchers are offered a different kind of lyricism, with Wendy attending the “Rainbow” bar and grill in Hollywood and remembering how she, then an actress and a waitress, met her soulmate, a “personal person,” there – introduced to him by, of all people, Blackmore. Cue the unique clips of Ronnie in the husband role, barbequing in their backyard – and then, after a mere nine ten minutes of screen time, such a significant chapter in his journey comes to a close, with no house of his own and with royalties to be paid decades later, postmortem.
However, hurt pride – and self-confidence, reflected in directors Don Argott and Demian Fenton not shying away from allowing Graham Bonnet and Ozzy Osbourne appear in front of the viewer – didn’t bring him down; instead, the fate brought him a meeting, at the same LA restaurant, with Tony Iommi, resulting in Dio’s initial stint in BLACK SABBATH and, now, in the band’s stalwarts’, and Ronnie’s, interviews which propel this gripping, warts and all, narrative. That’s when his bank account bounced back from meagre $800 to a considerable amount, and that’s when his trademark hand horns – whose provenance is explained here – were first flaunted for metalheads around the globe to appropriate. Yet the cocaine-fueled conflict saw the emotionally traumatized Ronnie leave and finally solidify into a fierce pursuer of his singular reveries, with a group named after him, from "Holy Diver" – there’s a staged recreation of shooting a prototype of the album’s cover, and a storyboard for the “Last In Line” visuals – onwards, although a new development put a strain on his marriage, what with Wendy assuming, on his request, a manager’s reins. A role model for younger artists and a staple of MTV repertoire, Dio embodied metal
If Eddie Trunk doesn’t contribute many revelations to the film, Mick Wall, Ronnie’s former publicist, has a lot of tales to tell and flesh out the historical background these press figures provide. Those who worked with him analyze Dio’s beliefs and way of thinking about different subjects, most of all his approach to songwriting, and personal stance with regard to various concepts, most of all his views of religion and human nature, as well as his work ethics and his caring attitude towards fans. It was his dignity, authenticity and honesty, after all, that the charity of “Hear ‘N Aid” emerged from – the all-star get-together which demonstrated the hard ‘n’ heavy community’s allegiance to their elder statesman.
The veteran’s commercial decline in the ’90s, when his dreams got transmogrified into depression, is addressed too, but the movie passes over Dio’s records of that dark period and doesn’t dwell even on his second coming with SABBATH – unlike his third, called HEAVEN AND HELL, which saw him rule arenas again. What didn’t need resurgence was Ronnie’s attention to detail, echoed in the packaging of the limited edition box set with DVD and Blu-ray – featuring additional material – and beautiful paraphernalia up to facial tissues, bearing the appropriate “I’ll be the one to make the Devil cry” quote – and his humor, so “Dreamers Never Die” is infused with it. There are images superimposed with funny captions and sights of him fooling about – as opposed to seriously working in the studio, also documented here – plus there’s Jack Black fetching lighter entertainment to the table by discussing the perceivably devilish aspect of Dio’s oeuvre. Yes, he was invincible, yet vulnerable and, in effect, immortal – and human. This is why people cry when speaking of Ronnie’s passing, and it’s almost impossible for those who knew him to hold back the tears after watching the film’s final scenes.
“I’m difficult at times, difficult only because I want things to be right, but I think you couldn’t find a better friend than me,” said Ronnie James Dio to this scribe nigh on two decades ago. That is who he was, and that is what the documentary makers conveyed so perfectly, paying a loving respect to everyone’s hero. “If you’re not different, no one’s going to care about you. You can’t be a copy of someone else, and if you’re good enough to create your own identity, then people will like you”: indeed, the Dreamer was, and remains, unique.