by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley
Inside the historic Vista Theater, I watch a black clad Penelope Spheeris stride down the aisle to accept Silver Lake Film Festival’s 2nd annual Spirit of Silver Lake award—an honor that “celebrates living legends who have challenged the mainstream cinema with their independent vision.” At the screening gala, held in Rudy’s Barbershop, she takes my hand, strong and sincere, as I offer my congratulations. An L.A. legend indeed.
“Do you think of yourself as a living legend?
Director Penelope Spheeris poses this question to the venerable Mr. Osbourne well into her exzzellent Ozzfest documentary, We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n’ Roll. It hardly needs to be asked. The religious fervor of fanatics in the stands, and the bands on the bill (Rob Zombie, Slipknot, System of a Down, et al), testify to the legacy of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. Ozzy’s diffident answer—that he is just an ordinary bloke giving the audience a good night out is disingenuous. But it’s all part of the affable charm he uses to disarm.
The stylistic opening shot of Ozzy through the looking sunglasses is a visual metaphor for the hallucinogenic imaginings of larger than life rock and rollers taking to the stage to hype and hypnotize waves of the faithful. Amidst the carnival of sideshows and mosh pits, Ozzfest is raucous rock that does not stop.
We Sold Our Souls is not, however, a high gloss music video. It’s an endearing take on a rock and roll leader who has outlived his demons to go on to mentor young musicians, and to continue to rouse radical loyalty in any and all kinds of fans.
The real wizard of Ozzfest is Ozzy’s wife, Sharon Osbourne (producer of We Sold Our Souls). A true power chick portrayed as a pleasant British mum, Sharon Osbourne is the mettle behind the metal. Her serene veneer calms the chaos as she orchestrates the tour unseen by spectators.
For Ozzy is not invincible—along with the acclaim, Spheeris subtly depicts his occasional bouts of bewilderment. At one point he sings lyrics read off a teleprompter, another time a roadie sighs, “Ozzy’s not payin’ attention, but that’s cool.”
It is cool. The music idol simply needs to appear and bow to the cheers. And with camera and crew, Penelope Spheeris, in true “Spirit of Silver Lake” style, fiercely documents not the decline, but the dynamism of this miracle man.
Postscript 2023: I texted friend, Visual Artist Alisha Plummer, who worked on The Talk:
“Thoughts on Sharon Osbourne?”
“Love her! She was so sweet—fashionably late, but she and Ozzy would sit and eat with us at lunch. And, I vividly remember them always ordering an “L.A. Hot Dog,” and Mrs. O paying for their hot dogs from her wallet embellished with “Fuck you. Pay Me.”