This edition: Musician Biopics!
You know what you can really appreciate from a biopic of a musician and/or band, though? Something that can give the films that extra boost? When the actors get the chance to perform the music themselves. And there have been a number of films where the stars have shown their musical capabilities. It doesn’t even have to be just like the When Sam Riley took on the role of Ian Curtis for Control, he and his co-stars performed all of the Joy Division songs themselves. For Floria Sigismondi’s film The Runaways, which looked at the early days of the all-girl punk band of the 1970s, both Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart performed many of the songs themselves, as well as turning in solid performances (yes, even Stewart). For biopics of individual music stars, the likes of Ray, The Buddy Holly Story and Walk the Line see their stars turn in not only incredible acting performances (Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Gary Busey as Buddy Holly and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, respectively), but musical turns that would make their subjects very proud. However, for my money, the best of the bunch is Sissy Spacek’s turn as Loretta Lynn in Michael Apted’s film Coal Miner’s Daughter. It’s an intelligent and heartfelt film, and proves very well that Spacek has some a damn fine voice to go along with her skills as an actress. Haven’t seen it? Go do that.
The point of a film taking serious liberties with the life stories of musicians (and people in general) is a very common tale. Much like The Doors, another film to be criticised by those whose lives appear onscreen is What's Love Got to Do With It?, the loose adaptation of the lives of Tina and Ike Turner. The abuse suffered by Tina at the hands of her husband Ike, and the subsequent personal and legal battle that ensued, is the kind of stuff that was always going to wind up on film at some point. Finally, in 1993, the film landed, with the main roles being filled by Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. As a work of telling a true story, it’s really quite inaccurate. However, as a piece of dramatisation, it’s really quite something, and the performances from Bassett and Fishburne are amongst the best they’ve ever done. Heavily made up? Yes. Compelling viewing? Also yes.
The Fab Four themselves even got in on the act more than once, appearing in a few films as themselves in some fashion, though they can’t really be considered as biopics. 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night comes the closest to that, as it saw them literally running around at the height of the whole Beatlemania thing, chased by fans and the like. It exists in our same world, but the actual story of a train journey and Paul’s cantankerous grandfather causing problems are fiction. This same notion of real world/fake events continues in Help!, with the four trying to outwit and outrun a cult looking to sacrifice Ringo (it’s an odd one, but since this was my introduction to The Beatles, I’ll always love it). The 1967 TV movie Magical Mystery Tour, released as an accompaniment to the album of the same name, is even stranger since this was the band now well into their psychedelic phase. A whacked-out bus tour, four wizards and the Walrus himself… yeah, it’s very interesting.
Then there’s the biopic of a jazz legend that took the interesting tactic of casting an already established jazz legend in the lead role. Lady Sings the Blues tells the story of the great Billie Holiday, with the lead role filled by Diana Ross. It’s a hard life led by Holiday, and the film looks to bring out those harsh events to weave a tale of talent and tragedy. It’s not subtle, occasionally even kind of clumsy in its attempt at wringing every bit of drama from Holiday’s life, but Diana Ross is really very good, even bagging an Oscar nomination for her efforts.
What other music biopics do you have? Better yet, who deserves one? (Note: we’ll actually be getting another jazz biopic hopefully within the next year or so, with Don Cheadle taking on the mighty Miles Davis. You best believe I’m looking forward to that). Let us know in the comments below.