Our “Love-Hate Relationship” with the Music Biopic

There is no doubt that with every music biopic sensation, like Walk the Line or Ray, there’s also the inevitable duds I’m looking at you, Great Balls of Fire and Jersey Boys! Talk to any filmmakers, and the very thought of the word “biopic,” will instantly make them shudder: Re-creating a musical icon admired by fans is no easy task, even with the best intentions.  However, this has not exactly discouraged Hollywood from making new ones. Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic of the British rock group Queen and its frontman Freddie Mercury, was released last year, and this summer, Rocketman, the biopic of Elton John, will makes its debut to audiences.

Screen-Shot-2018-09-28-at-8.58.28-AM(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures) 

Both films presented us with eye-catching trailers let’s be honest, music biopic trailers always look good.  It’s almost as if we are watching a music video with endless cuts, spectacular costumes and lead actors who are clearly bringing blood, sweat and tears to their roles. However, when we actually go out to the cinema to watch the final product of these films, they tend to fall flat. That is not to say that they aren’t wildly entertaining and have their enjoyable qualities a handful of them have indeed done a notably good job, considering the high expectations.  But, I still believe it is difficult for a biopic to truly be worthy of its subject (Rami Malek, you are spectacular in Bohemian Rhapsody, but you’re no Freddie Mercury!)

Perhaps we must sympathize with the music biopic What if they portray the subject and their music in the wrong light? What if the film will fail to do both justice?  Yet no matter our uncertainty, we still manage to find ourselves taking a seat in the theatre, the lights dimming, as we munch nervously on our popcorn.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY(Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

I have come to the conclusion that the music biopic can go in two different directions: 1. It works to depict the subject as faithfully as possible of course, there are a few bumps along the way, but hey, the effort is there! &  2. It is a complete and utter disaster — cue in the demands of “I want my money back!” and exclaims of “I am never listening to ______ again!”

Although I do not have the tell-all answer to what makes a good music biopic, I do have a few friendly suggestions take note Hollywood!

  1. Focus on one or two specific elements   A great example of this is the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy which to me was quite impressive.  This film is unique in that it jumps back and forth between two timelines: A young Wilson creating the masterful “Pet Sounds” in the studio and older Wilson trying to come to terms with his mental illness.
  2. Make the music scenes shine!  —  Shoot them in a way that makes us feel as if we are in the studio or on stage alongside our favourite musician.  After all, it is these moments that remind us why we care about this person’s story in the first place. Just think of the scene where Johnny Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix) gives a thrilling performance of “Cocaine Blues” at Folsom Prison in Walk the Line or when Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) sings the tune, “La Bamba” in La Bamba.
  3. Never exclude the creative process    SHOW us that moment of the musician becoming the musician and the legendary song being crafted note by note. (Seriously, we want to see it!). Who could forget the scene in Straight Outta Compton, when N.W.A. records “Straight Outta Compton?”
  4. Think outside of the box!  Sometimes tackling the biopic from a new perspective can be beneficial.  In other words, don’t be afraid to practise creativity and embrace strangeness!  Behold the film, I’m Not There in which Bob Dylan’s multiple personas are depicted or A Hard Day’s Night in which The Beatles play themselves.

Walk-the-Line-700x463(Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox) 

So, what are your feelings towards the music biopic?  Is it love, hate or a combination of the two? Are there any suggestions that YOU would propose? Sound off below!



Written by Sarah Regan

*Cover image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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Sarah is an avid film & music-lover, aspiring artist and outdoor enthusiast with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Guelph. She has diverse editorial experience for printed publications, websites and social media platforms, such as The Ontarion and HOLR Magazine.

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