Monday, October 5, 2009

Biopics: Documentaries With Actors?

Recently, Fox Searchlight started negotiations over the rights to a Ramones biopic based off of the forthcoming book, I Slept With Joey Ramone, written by Ramone's brother, Mickey Leigh, and Punk writer, Legs McNeil (Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk). While I'm a Ramones fan and think they have a very interesting story to tell, the thing is that the story has already been told in documentary form in the excellent film, End Of The Century - The Story Of The Ramones. This documentary pretty much covered all the bases of things you need to know about one of Rock's most influential bands of all time. If you need to see what they were like throughout various parts of their career, then there are several video releases to document their video and/or concert years (Lifestyles Of The Ramones, We're Outta Here, Ramones Raw, etc.). With that said, do we really need another biopic of any musician at this point. The answer is no.

There are only two real reasons for seeing any biopic. One reason is because you love the artist being portrayed. Whether it's Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Ian Curtis or The Runaways, this artist entered your life at some point and you fell in love with their music. The second reason is just curiosity to see how this artist will be portrayed by an actor. That second reason will break a film regardless of well known or great a band is. For me, the two reasons are blurred as I may like the artist but not love them and will be slightly curious to see a film based on them(an exception being made for Control. I owned one Joy Division album but I just wanted to see a movie shot by Anton Corbjin after seeing so many of his music videos and photographs for years). These same reasons would also cause you to see a documentary of the same artist. On top of that, the documentary is an actual documented account of that period by people who were there not screenwriters and actors.

This is not to be anti-biopic because there are some really good ones but in the end, we need a break from them and not every band needs one. It comes off as a cheap way to convince fans that they should be fans of a band and convince people that they should like should like a band because this person was cool enough to play them. A prime example of this is the upcoming biopic on The Runaways.

I think The Runaways were a great band that helped open a lot of doors for bands like L7, The Donnas, and Bikini Kill either through music or the fact that at the time, there was really nothing like them (later on, you would get The Slits and The Raincoats). Their brief existence is a very interesting story filled with tales of sleazy managers, in-fighting and the fact that people saw them as more of a novelty than a real Rock band. The accounts of these stories were told in Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways, a documentary filmed a former Runaway, Victory Tischler-Blue aka Vicki Blue, and features stories of the band and their spent in the band minus one person, Joan Jett. This makes for a much compelling view than the possibility of a film featuring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart (a film which I'll eventually see due to the reasons stated earlier).

What does any of this mean other than a piece to stay "please stop with all of the biopics?" Nothing other than please stop with all of the biopics. I'd rather read about a person's life or see a well made documentary about a band. Those are closer to the truth of things and provide a interesting look into why this artist really matters. Mind you, this isn't to bash biopics because there are some good ones (Control comes to mind). The thing is there's a very thin line between reality and fantasy and when a script is involved, how much is there of one over the other? Furthermore, why isn't there a biopic of Tiny Tim?

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