The art of the music biopic

by Jason Gross

26 October 2005


Best music scribing I’ve seen recently is this little gem by Sara Bir: Filmed Notes, concerning the idea of the musical biopic.  For Hollywood’s purposes, Bir points out that an artist’s or band’s career is shaped into a suitable beginning/middle/end storyline with the inevitable rise-fall career course that VH1’s “Behind the Music” documents (too) well now.  There could have been more than a few examples that are cited in the article but that would have been a massive undertaking and the few examples there serve the purpose.  Other than the upcoming Johnny Cash film Bir notes, there’s also a Biggie film in the works.

One difficult thing to chronicle in films like these are the scope of the subjects.  By nature, larger-than-life characters are the basis of these films but what also comes along with that are very complex characters that are difficult to fully chronicle in the space of a two hour film- that’s usually left to a good biographer.  While it’d be boring to see the goody-goody side of a famous character for the space of a film, most of these pics delve into dark sides and a character overcoming this or not without trying to explore or explain where these problems come from in the first place.  In fairness, this isn’t easy to compress into a biopic and it’s usually not done very well in your standard drama.

One way out of this dilemna is a the novel idea of having multiple parts playing one character.  This didn’t work very well in the recent Lennon musical but a more promising example of this may be Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan, which is rumored to have Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Colin Farrell, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Richard Gere and Julianne Moore among others playing the Minnesota bard.  Still in pre-production at the moment and slated for a possible 2006 release, it may not be as revealing as Scorsese’s recent Dylan film but may be more in the spirit of the subject if Haynes structures it right.

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article