Bio-pics

Bio-pics: A Life in Pictures

ELLEN CHESHIRE
Series: Short Cuts
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/ches17205
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bio-pics
    Book Description:

    Bio-pics: A Life in Pictures offers a series of case studies which throw light on this most unique of genres. Is the bio-pic a genre in its own right? Or are such films merely footnotes in other more traditional genres such as the western or costume drama, depending on the historical figure under scrutiny. Unlike other genre forms bio-pics seemingly share no familiar iconography, codes or conventions. They can be set anywhere and at any time. What links them is quite simply that the films depict the life of an 'important' person. Through a carefully selected range of thematically linked (English-language) bio-pics released since 1990 this book explores key issues surrounding their resurgence, narrative structure, production, subject representation or misrepresentation, and critical response. The films under discussion are grouped around a profession (writers, singers, politicians, sportsmen, criminals, artists) allowing for comparisons to be drawn in approaches to similar subject matter.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85068-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: A LIFE IN PICTURES
    (pp. 1-20)

    A quick survey of one week’s film stories for the national UK newspaperThe Guardian(26 August–1 September 2014) revealed six bio-pic related features: a review of the bio-pic on Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi which opened at the Venice Film Festival; rumours that Martin Scorsese is to make a film about the Ramones; news and clips on the new Jimi Hendrix bio-pic,Jimi: All Is by My Side; an interview with actor John Hamm on sporting bio-picMillion Dollar Arm; a news story on a court case surrounding the 2013 Linda Lovelace bio-pic and news on Lifetime TV’s forthcoming...

  5. 1 THE SOUND OF MUSIC: SINGERS AND MUSICIANS TAKE CENTRE STAGE
    (pp. 21-34)

    The writing and performing of music is both a visual and aural experience, the music’s power driving the narrative forward with both diegetic and nondiegetic uses. Some films have required the actor to recreate the sounds of the singer in question: Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin inBeyond the Sea(2004) and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash inWalk the Linewhereas others have mimed to actual recordings: Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf inLa Vie en Roseand Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles inRay– although he did so with his own piano playing. Some performances are so pitch...

  6. 2 HOLLYWOODLAND: ACTORS AND DIRECTORS AS PORTRAYED BY ACTORS AND DIRECTORS
    (pp. 35-48)

    From the earliest flickering black-and-white images on a wall, to modernday blockbusters, Hollywood as a dream factory (not necessarily a geographic space) has fascinated audiences. Filmmakers have responded to this by producing films about their own industry. It is a business that on the surface is all glitz and glamour – but what lies beneath is something much darker. The more successful films about ‘Hollywood’ tend to explore and explode the myth of the ‘dream factory’. The stars chosen for bio-pics are often ones who have become tarnished by gossip, or have suffered at the hands of the industry itself.

    These...

  7. 3 PRICK UP YOUR EARS: NOW A WORD ON WRITERS
    (pp. 49-62)

    There is nothing more dull than filming someone writing. Yet there have been some great fiction films that have focused entirely on the writing process, includingBarton Fink(1991) andAdaptation(2002). Although fictitious, both based their lead writers on real people: playwright Clifford Odets (Barton Fink inBarton Fink) and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Charlie and Donald Kaufman inAdaptation). When it comes to filming the lives of real writers, there has been a tendency to downplay the actual act of writing and focus instead on their private lives. Either drawing parallels between what they write about and their lives,...

  8. 4 THROUGH THE EYES OF A PAINTER: THE ART OF THE ON-SCREEN ARTIST
    (pp. 63-72)

    As with writers, the lives of artists depicted on film imply that if you are creatively blessed then you will also be emotionally scarred. Many times, filmmakers fail to balance the art with the life. The two films discussed here come closer than many at exploring and making cinematic the actual act of painting itself.

    The two case studies chosen explore the lives of two painters Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) and Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris). They were deeply personal projects for their stars, who also produced and worked closely on the screenplay; Harris also directed. Both place the exploration and...

  9. 5 A WINNER NEVER QUITS: THE POWERFUL FORCE OF SPORTING BIOGRAPHIES
    (pp. 73-82)

    Following on from Dickinson’s observation above, the more successful sports bio-pics seem to be those where the sporting figure has challenged the system, or overcome great adversity to become the legends they are. Narratives driven on the premise that the underdog can succeed have always proved a popular draw at the box office.

    The two case studies here,AliandThe Damned United(2009), show two sports (boxing and football) from two countries (US and UK) from an overlapping period of the late 1960s to early 1970s. Both films have at their core a significant sporting incident in 1974.The...

  10. 6 AWAKENINGS: VOICES FROM THE IVORY TOWERS OF ACADEMIA
    (pp. 83-92)

    Scientists, academics and technologists depicted from the 1930s to the 1950s were portrayed as ‘heroes’ working to make the world a safer, better place: One free from disease (The Story of Louis Pasteur, 1936) or tyranny (The Dam Busters, 1954). These were largely propaganda films meant to inspire audiences during a period of economic depression, the war and its aftermath.

    In most recent years, such films have tended to offer a warts-and-all depiction, interweaving the academic prowess of their subjects with complex emotional stories. Both Kinsey inKinseyand Nash inA Beautiful Mindare portrayed as flawed, but brilliant,...

  11. 7 INTO THE STORM: THE POLITICS OF POLITICAL BIO-PICS
    (pp. 93-108)

    The films analysed in this chapter focus on three contrasting politicians: Richard Nixon, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.

    Certainly no one would argue that Richard Nixon is an important figure in American politics. Oliver Stone’s bio-pic,Nixon(1995), is a big sweeping epic, its fragmented narrative and visual style dominated by the performance of Anthony Hopkins as the tragic president. It was criticised for its length and for the final hour, focusing on the minutiae of the Watergate scandal. Here we will focus on Morgan and Howard’sFrost/Nixon(2008) which manages to combine both the importance of Nixon pre- and...

  12. 8 A ROYAL AFFAIR: THE MAJESTY OF ROYAL REPRESENTATIONS
    (pp. 109-124)

    Royal bio-pics have been a mainstay of commercial cinema since its inception. Historians fear them as, ultimately, they are seen as a commercial and entertainment venture first and historical document second. Inevitably filmmakers will have to condense, elide, edit and re-organise a life in order to make a satisfactory and coherent narrative. They are usually held up as exemplars of high production values in costume, hair, make-up, set design and location. Stately homes which are used as locations often subsequently see a high up-turn in visitor numbers.

    Here, we will be examining four films examining the lives of queens which...

  13. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 125-126)

    As I write this in September 2014, there are daily announcements of bio-pics scheduled for release and in the pipeline.

    Like all other staple genres, comic book adaptations, thrillers, horrors, rom-coms, the genre will continue to be one that intrigues and fascinates. And as with all other film genres, some will be great successes, and others will fail.

    But ultimately biographical-pictures, bio-pics, will succeed if filmmakers find imaginative ways to present the life in question. They will have to manipulate the vast quantities of material available to them, to create a compelling well-constructed narrative. As with documentary films, there will...

  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 127-134)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 135-144)