Biographical Films: a discredited genre?

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Siegmund, Feb 12, 2024.

  1. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic Thread Starter

    Location:
    Britain, Europe
    They’ve been around as long as the film industry and the format would seem to be a winner: take a historical figure from sport, the arts, politics, or just ….history and tell their story. No problems with copyright unless you’re filming a published biography/autobiography and if the subject’s long dead, you’ve got carte Blanche.

    Biographical films also tend to be ‘prestige’ projects. A film about a worthy figure from history, if done competently, will automatically attract consideration by awards committees, who are always keen on ‘elevating’ subject matter.

    Problem is: perceptions of great historical characters change, screenwriters and filmmakers often have to ‘adapt’ the facts to make a commercial product and there’s also the fact that biopics tend to date very quickly. There have been some famous ones, but I can’t think of a single biopic that’s fondly remembered.

    And if anyone is tempted to say ‘Gandhi’ - I don’t think that IS fondly remembered. It’s dull as ditchwater and Ben Kingsley’s AA-winning performance represents a triumph of prosthetics/miraculous dieting rather than acting.


    Rock biopics, of course, tend to fall out of favour even more quickly, even if they’re initially well-received. Bohemian Rhapsody was huge a few years back, but who admits to liking it (or its ridiculous central performance) now?


    More recently, hardly anyone seems to have liked Ridley Scott’s overblown and unnecessary film about Napoleon (how many good smaller films could have made from the obscene amount of money that cinematic black hole swallowed up?).
     
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  2. Onkster515

    Onkster515 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Alcoholic Anonymous gave Kingsley an award?

    But seriously: biopics are often fun to watch but I’m wracking my brain to recall any I’d actually call good.
     
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  3. darth_tyrannus_rex

    darth_tyrannus_rex Forum Resident

    Location:
    Paris
    They've always been more congratulatory than interesting, like superhero stories for real people. Unfortunately, they're too dull and formulaic to work. I much prefer works centered around a specific historical event.
     
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  4. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic Thread Starter

    Location:
    Britain, Europe

    I’ve always found the term ‘Oscar’ a bit clunky.
     
  5. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic Thread Starter

    Location:
    Britain, Europe

    I seriously don’t think there are any.
     
  6. Fishleehooke

    Fishleehooke Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dayton
    Oppenheimer?

    Amadeus is amazing. Does that count?


    It is indeed really really hard to pull off though. Extremely hard.
     
  7. Pangurban

    Pangurban Forum Resident

    Location:
    United States
    Lawrence of Arabia
     
  8. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Space-Age luddite

    Location:
    Central PA
    I think Being The Ricardos caught that significant moment in time for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz eloquently. Using the actress' obsession with nailing that one comedic timing issue, and widening the story out to what really made the marriage work (and fail) is the sort of masterstroke of framing a narrative Aaron Sorkin can be proud of. Both as a biographical subject and a character piece, the film works extremely well.

    Meanwhile across the country but at the same network, there's George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, centering-around a pivotal incident in the career of Edward R. Murrow. The whole challenge of whether to deliver the news the public deserves, rather than the story they want, writ large and delivered in 2005 as the public was asking the same questions of themselves.

    In my mind, a great double-feature for people who have just gotten through the relative fictions of Mad Men and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and are looking for something more substantial to chew through. Because these are not "autobiographical" movies that try and sum up the subjects' entire life, but just to capture the essence of what makes those subject significant at all.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2024
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  9. 64FALCON

    64FALCON Forum Resident

    I think PATTON gives off an essence of the real man with George C. Scott in the lead role. I also thought Karl Malden was quite good as Omar N. Bradley. Malden has a tendency to overplay and be loud -- see PARRISH (1961) as an example -- but in "Patton" I thought Karl was most effective. My 2¢ worth.

    I can't help but wonder what Gen. Bradley thought of PATTON as he was still alive when it was released in 1970. Omar N. Bradley died in 1981 at age 88, btw.
     
  10. These are two good examples of really good biopics.

    Is the question do they have to be accurate? What's wrong with those two?
     
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  11. 64FALCON

    64FALCON Forum Resident

    My guess is SERGEANT YORK (1941) isn't 100% accurate in its storytelling much like Gary Cooper's baseball-themed starring vehicle about 'The Iron Horse' (Lou Gehrig) isn't. But there's definitely some truth in the telling of these tales. Same with ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS with Raymond Massey from 1940. Who wants to watch a boring bio so dramatic elements are often added to these films.

    On the other hand the 1948 movie THE BABE RUTH STORY is, uh, not quite in the league of other, better bio-pics. A syrupy, childish film apparently meant to be released to celebrate The Bambino's life before he died that year. Babe Ruth was only 53 at the time of his passing. William Bendix stars as The Babe, who's depicted as a "big-kid-all-growed-up". If you watch the movie you'll see what I mean, but it's pretty dire in laying thick on the hero-worship! You might end up tossing your cookies by the end of it.
     
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  12. Scooterpiety

    Scooterpiety Ars Gratia Artis

    Location:
    Oregon
    A good deal of Lawrence of Arabia is fictionalized or inaccurate, but Amadeus, except for the most basic facts of Mozart's life and career is almost total fiction.
     
  13. Scooterpiety

    Scooterpiety Ars Gratia Artis

    Location:
    Oregon
    Lincoln?
     
  14. Yes, but does historically inaccurate make it less good? I'll say 95% of the time, yes, inaccurate films will get a hard pass from me, especially if they can't get the period down. On the other hand, such well-made films like Amadeus and Lawrence..., which at least appear historically accurate on the surface, can gain a lot of traction with me, because of the filmmaking and an "alternate reality" stance I can take if it's good enough. Most aren't good enough, though.
     
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  15. SRC

    SRC That sums up Squatter for me

    Location:
    New York, NY
    I still like the film Gandhi. I would not expect anything different from a film made in 1982 about his life. Any film from 4-5 decades ago needs to be seen in its cultural context. Lawrence of Arabia, The Aviator, Raging Bull, Amadeus, The Last Emperor, Schindler's List, My Left Foot, Malcolm X...love all these. I think the OP just happens to not like these movies, I'm not sure how one then makes the leap that they are therefore a "discredited genre." Particularly when an especially good biographical film is going to win Best Picture this year. There is indeed often an overdose of hype at the time of release about an actor's transformation into a known historical figure, but that doesn't mean all biopics eventually go sour like milk left out on the counter. Like any other genre, there can be good ones and not so good ones, ones that age well and ones that don't.
     
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  16. razerx

    razerx Nonplayer Character

    Downfall was pretty good and it gave us all the hilarious parodies.
     
  17. Yes, I think the genre is slightly discredited. Then again, people are going to discredit any genre if they don't like it. Perhaps genres should be discredited just as much as they're credited. I think that happens naturally.

    I'm here today to discredit the hell out of the Super Hero genre.

    See? It worked. :D
     
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  18. Onkster515

    Onkster515 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Good examples posted, though I’d disagree with Opp and maybe Ghandi. Ghandi’s kind of the Chariots of Fire of biopics.
     
  19. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    Well, Oppenheimer did pretty well: 13 Oscar nominations, 13 BAFTA nominations, 8 Golden Globe nominations (5 wins), and also nominated for a whole slew of SAG-AFTRA awards, ASC cinematography awards, and sound awards. I've predicted for more than six months that it'll probably sweep the Oscars and win almost everything.

    I'm actually more a fan of the fictionalized biographical films, like The Rutles, Walking Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Spinal Tap, Mighty Wind, Dreamgirls, That Thing You Do, Grace of My Heart, and films like that. At least there, you can start with the bare bones idea of having it based on "some" real people and then dramatize it beyond that. That way, nobody can sue or claim you got the story wrong.

    I've often said: "if I won De Lotto, I'd make a whole bunch of biographical films, some of which would be controversial: Morris Levy & Tommy James (at Roulette Records), a Roy Orbison biopic, a film about the life of Marvin Gaye, a film -- maybe even a TV show -- about the life and music of Phil Spector and how that all went down the drain." So there's a lot of ideas out there... the question is how to get the music rights and permissions (plus the money) to actually get the films made. And the more time goes on, the less of a chance we'll ever have to see them.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2024
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  20. barryalan

    barryalan Cat in Space

    Location:
    Santa Ana CA
    I enjoyed The Aviator. Very well done film by Scorsese. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won five. It cost 110 million dollars to make and took in 214 million at the box office.
     
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  21. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    NS, Canada
    Were older bio movies more likely to be intentionally uplifting? As opposed to muck raking and cynical.

    I probably like the genre a bit because the persons concerned are very interesting or are peripheral material for my interest in history. Oppenheimer and Malcolm X were a couple I watched in recent times.

    I recently watched the two movies about Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan.

    What the heck is Being John Malkovich? :)
     
  22. barryalan

    barryalan Cat in Space

    Location:
    Santa Ana CA
    Ed Wood, Chaplin, Kafka, Bonnie and Clyde, Sid and Nancy, Vincent and Theo, The Buddy Holly Story, Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, My Left Foot, Born On the Fourth of July, The Krays, Cobb, Lenny, Basquiat, these are all biopics to varying degrees and quality that I've seen and consider good movies.
     
  23. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic Thread Starter

    Location:
    Britain, Europe

    I would say not, as it’s the screen version of a play which has little to do with actual history (the idea that Mozart was ‘murdered’ by Salieri is an invention).
     
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  24. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic Thread Starter

    Location:
    Britain, Europe
    That’s a good example of what I mean: a ‘prestige’ project, which scored lots of awards, but seems to be completely forgotten now.
     
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  25. 64FALCON

    64FALCON Forum Resident

    When was 'Lincoln' made? I really have no idea and didn't want to go to Wikipedia and 'cheat' and look before replying. Don't recall a thing about it.

    I ~do~ remember ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS pretty well, tho. Do I get brownie points for that? :p
     
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