Tanya Mysianovska


Discovering why this genre is so attractive and uncovering details on a few of upcoming biopics.

The biopic is a genre hugely loved by audience, critics and studios. Biopics are movies that are centered around some real life personalities or a group of people and tell a story of their whole life or about a particular, mostly important, moment in their personal life or career. The genre has existed since the beginning of movie production and flourished during the 1930s.

The first music biopic was the 1918 silent (sick) movie The House of Three Girls (Das Dreimäderlhaus). The German film was directed by Richard Oswald and based on the operetta Das Dreimäderlhaus. Then in 1923 there was another silent musician biopic — Heinz Goldberg’s Paganini. And later on a few other silent dramas. With thw invention of sound in movies the great amount of music films arose. Since then, Clark Gable played Cole Porter, Dianna Ross — Billie Holiday, Sissy Spacek — Loretta Lynn, Jamie Foxx was Ray Charles and Joaquin Phoenix embodied the great Johnny Cash and on and on and on. Stars seem to like portraying music legends, and we like to watch them doing it.

The recent rise of music biopics raises the question — why they are so popular and why are big studious more than willing to make these movies? The answer is, I guess, because they’re a kind of safe option, there is a great chance that music biopic will be a box office success. Because in most of the time they’re amusing, entertaining and people love them. So, the studios have a great opportunity to make good money on well known established rock star, country legend or pop diva. And we love to watch a backstage of a glamorous, luxurious life with all its ups and downs, successes, scandals, behind-the-scenes intrigues, drugs, rehabs and motivational speeches. What not to love about that?

My guess that biopics about musicians are a mixture of cartoonish musicals parts that we all grow accustomed to and of musicals.

We, the people, like a little bit of music. But at the same time musical intersections in animated (mostly Disney) movies tend to annoy us as we grow older. And I guess the reason for this is that we don’t see this kind of activity in real life. Nobody stands up and starts to sing about their deep desires or background in some exalted and pretty serious way. Nobody does it. So, instead we’ve got musicals. Musicals are the kind of escapism and pretty often musical parts are dream like and portraying a search for love, success, wealth, and popularity. So, in many cases the real life of some extraordinary personalities, depicted in biopics, especially rock stars, country legends or pop icons looks like a real life incarnation of dreams and, as a matter of fact, seems to be a live action musical.

In other words, biopics of musical singers are the modern days’ incarnation of musicals. And musicals especially some of the most memorable was the Hollywood sweethearts. Nostalgic nods to good old days.

Like most movies, biopics are not just that they seem. Placing a particular person or group of people in the center they are still a reflection of a wider society around that person and both a reflection of times in which they are set and a mirror to the reality of the world in which they were shot.

Let’s take a look at some fresh examples. Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman — diversity, self acceptance and LGBTQ rights. Judy — female empowerment, coping with drugs, depression and public pressure.
Previous notion that biopics are the darling of both regular viewers and critics proves itself in Academy Award’s love for actors, who play real people. The recent examples in music biopic genre — Rami Malek for Freddie Mercury and all that nominations Renee Zellweger got for portraying Judy Garland.

Music biopics evolve with time. It’s not necessary that these movies are circle around a particular person or band it can be as well focused on music, on creative result of great minds or vocals behind compositions, on its influence to the other people’s life. Recent examples are “Yesterday” and “Blinded By The Light”. These movies show how Beatles’ and Bruce Springsteen’s music influences life of fictional and real person respectively.
Also, music biopics are in a way a superhero movies. But instead of a fictional character there are real life geniuses, foreseers, poets, legends, superstars who managed to rise to real stardom. Let’s have a look whose great story Hollywood will tell us next.

Upcoming biopic about musicians

Jennifer Hudson will play the legendary singer Aretha Franklin. With Forest Whitaker, Tate Donovan and Mary J. Blige by her side. Directed by Liesl Tommy (Jessica Jones, The Walking Dead) movie is set to release on 14 August 2020 (USA). Movie will touch upon Memphis native’s childhood years and on her cultural and civil rights movement impact. In fact, there are not one but two upcoming Aretha movies in 2020. One, mentioned above feature, and the other one is National Geographic’s mini series Genius:Aretha with Cynthia Erivo in a leading role.

Going Electric (working title)
Timothee Chalamet will portray a young Bob Dylan. Very few of details are known so far, no release date or plot details. But relaying on the title we can assume that movie will focus around the Newport Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan shocked everybody stepping on stage carrying a Fender Stratocaster in place of his familiar acoustic guitar. Dylan made his move from folk to rock music and caused mixed feelings among his auditory. Nothing to worry about this movie with James Mangold in director’s chair. The filmmaker have previously captured a beautiful and touching story of Man in Black in 2005 biopic Walk the Line.

Baz Luhrmann will direct next feature about the King of Rock ’n’ Roll — Elvis. Movie is still in the pre-production stage and is set to release in October 2021. The movie is going to focus on singer’s rise to stardom and his relations with manager, Col. Parker. One of the most exiting things about this movie is that Tom Hanks is going to play Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, and the odds are that finally he will portray a negative or at least not so pleasant personage. Colonel Parker has been taking 50% of Presley earnings and perhaps because of his problems with citizenship (he was an illegal migrant) Presley never toured abroad. Austin Butler will portray Elvis with Olivia DeJonge as his loved one — Priscilla Presley.

Bradley Cooper will direct, produce, co-write and star in upcoming Leonard Berstein movie. Carey Mulligan will supposedly play composer’s wife, Felicia Montealegre. Project is backed by Netflix and has a bunch of celebrity producers, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Todd Phillips. Scorsese was attached as a director but later step out to shoot The Irishman. Spielberg who was also considered directing, just shot a West Side Story remake with Berstein’s music from original film. Leonard Berstein is America’s first native-born world-famous conductor. He has been creating both academic music and popular film and Broadway scores. Despite of his creative successes, genius, civil rights activism and accusations of being a communist, Cooper wants to focus on composer’s fascinating relationship with his wife. For this purpose director is cooperating with Bernstein’s children.

Blue Moon Of Kentucky
The lifetime story of the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, the only person who created his own musical genre. Movie is going to be based on a book Can’t You Hear Me Callin’ by Richard D. Smith. The project was in talks back in 2012 but something hasn’t worked out then. Trevor Jolly — producer of future film says it’s for the best, because now story can be sold to Netflix or Amazon not just like a 90 minutes feature but like a mini series. The most exiting though (at least for me) is a star to play Mr. Monroe — equally unappreciated and brilliant Michael Shannon, finger crossed. Shannon not just a great actor but also a superb musician, so he is pretty much to conduct musical parts himself.

Johnny Flynn — musician and actor will portray a young David Bowie. Director Gabriel Range will tell us about Bowie’s journey to the USA and the story behind the creation of artist’s famous alter ego — Ziggy Stardust. Release date is 30 April 2020. But there is at least one disturbing fact about this production — project didn’t get rights to any of David Bowie’s music and isn’t sanctioned by brilliant artist’s family.

A bunch of other projects in talks:
Untitled Amy Winehouse Film. Producer Alison Owen will direct future film but there still no casting details;
Untitled John Lennon And Yoko Ono Film. Potential director — Jean Marc Vallée with a screenplay written by Anthony McCarten who previously wrote Bohemian Rhapsody;
Untitled Bob Marley Film. Ziggy Marley, Bob Marley’s son, will produce a biopic about his father. So far there aren’t any details on director and cast.

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