The adaptation of musician’s biographies as a subgenre of the film industry seems to have experienced a boom over the last decade, with films of varying quality made on Serge Gainsbourg (weak), John Lennon (afraid to watch it), Edith Piaf (sentimental and piercing in a French manner), Ian Curtis (convincing), Ian Dury (haven’t seen it) and others. There is also no shortage of older examples - The Buddy Holly Story (1978) about classic early rock’n’roller Buddy Holly, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) devoted to county legend Loretta Lynn, or Bird (1988), Clint Eastwood’s excellent portrayal of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. This time I’m going to talk about the biopics of five musicians.
1. The Rose, 1979 (Director: Mark Rydell)
The Rose is in essence biographical, but not in a formal sense – the heroine of the film is a fictional singer nicknamed Rose. However, even while the film was being made, no attempt was made to disguise the fact that the character of Rose is based on the turbulent personality and desperate 1960s sex, drugs & rock and roll legend of Janis Joplin (also called Pearl), who had been deceased for nine years at the time. To a great extent, this film set the standard for all future musician biopics. At its core is a striking acting performance, portraying the heroine both on stage and in her predictably fatal fight with her inner demons. Of course, there is also plenty of music, distinctive scenes of the era and easily understood morals.
It was The Rose that revealed Bette Midler’s – until then a singer, as well as musical and TV actress – dramatic talent. Her vocal embodiment is particularly compliment-worthy. As the story “is not” about Joplin, Midler does not sing her songs, but a stylistically close repertoire instead, and an indication of the actress’s performance is the fact that the film’s title track, later used by grungers Mudhoney, country star Conway Twitty, as well as sugary boy band Westlife, is today often referred to as a hit by Joplin – though in reality Janis herself has never sung it. Movie trailer
2. The Doors, 1991 (Director: Oliver Stone)
Although the film is named after the 1960s band, its story line focuses on singer of The Doors Jim Morrison, who under the direction of Oliver Stone and portrayed by Val Kilmer is at once an exciting rock star and an alcoholic overcome by pretentious egocentrism, entangled in the ideals of teenage rebellion and fooled by the worship of crowds into believing in his own messianic destiny. All this is served in a sauce of clichéd hippy sex, drugs and the search for “freedom” and the “doors of perception”.
Released on the twentieth anniversary of Jim’s death, the film received criticism from the Morrison family and film critics, as well as fans of The Doors and the three remaining members of the band (Robby Krieger and John Densmore acted as consultants, while Ray Manzarek refused to speak to Stone after reading the script), however, its story and music (just like in The Rose, producer of the “real” Doors and Joplin, Paul A. Rothchild took charge of the authenticity of the sound) were impressive enough to make Jim into one of the most popular t-shirt icons alongside Che Guevara and Marley. Movie trailer >>