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    5. The Beatles' Bohemian Rhapsody? Rock Biography Mistakes Sam Mendes Should ..

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    The Beatles' Bohemian Rhapsody? Rock Biography Mistakes Sam Mendes Should Avoid

    Rami Malek in the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” Photo: AP

    Let me start with some good advice: Never watch a rock biography with a music journalist. . Of course, following this rule might have saved my wife some anxiety when she thought I was having a medical emergency during a showing of Bohemian Rhapsody at my local Odeon. Hearing gasps of horror, she asked me what happened? “That’s what the guy who plays Roger Taylor just said,” I replied. “The fact that Queen are worried about performing at Live Aid because they haven't played a concert in years.” And what from this? “Well, that's wrong. They had toured the year before. They played at Wembley Arena for four nights!

    At least she now knows how to ignore any screams of dissatisfaction I might make while watching images of a musician's life superimposed on celluloid. And that's a good thing, because music biopics are a lucrative and constant fixture in movie theaters around the world. My question about why the film crew had gathered at the nearby pie and mash shop on Royal College Street was answered recently when I saw the trailer for Back To Black, the upcoming film about the life and death of Amy Winehouse.

    And this week it was revealed that Sam Mendes is set to make separate biopics about all four Beatles, to be released together in 2027, and that Ridley Scott is planning a film about the Bee Gees. It's likely that this evergreen genre will live longer than I have.

    However, these days I worry. If I actually suffer a fatal heart attack or embolism in a darkened room, my transition from life to death will only be discovered after the credits roll. But for any director hoping to avoid irritating audiences who are likely to find something to irritate them, there are guidelines to follow when it comes to making a successful musical biopic:

    • Get the details right – fans will know if you don't.
    • Be careful when filming live performances. The fleeting magic of a concert is damn hard to recreate on screen.
    • Get the right actor to play the lead role. Viewers will not be touched by Morgan Freeman as Karen Carpenter.
    • Stick to your guns. Don't aim for a happy ending if it doesn't exist in real life.
    • Make sure it's amazing. Even Tom Hiddleston, who gave his all as Hank Williams, couldn't breathe life into the frozen corpse of I'm Crossing the Line.

    I recently experienced a screening of Bob Marley: One Love, the latest hit about a star who no longer walks among us. To date, it has grossed over $80 million worldwide. As cinema goes, the film is far from a classic, but at least its keen eye for factual detail saved me from gratuitous horror. He knows, for example, that the football injury that marked the cancer diagnosis that ultimately killed the singer in 1981 occurred in Paris, not London (as is sometimes reported). Another nice touch was a shot of the exterior of the Rainbow Theater in Finsbury Park, where Marley and the Wailers performed four legendary concerts.

    Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley in One Love Credits: Chiabella James

    The decision to focus the action on a specific period of Marley's life – the two years between the release of the seminal album Exodus in 1977 – is also strong. Typically, the plots of music biopics are limited and predictable. After rising to fame, subjects either live or die. The third option – a grim return to obscurity – is of no interest to either filmmakers or producers. This sparse selection means that the genre's tropes are often as familiar as the sound of a guitar solo in a rock song.

    Within these parameters, acting is everything. I was certainly inspired by the many striking moments in One Love, in which leading man Kingsley Ben-Adir emphasizes Marley's ghost-turned-flesh mannerisms. In the world of musical biopics, a compelling lead performance can cover a multitude of sins. Gary Busey's astonishing performance, complete with horn-rimmed glasses, transformed The Buddy Holly Story from a digestible potboiler into a compelling portrayal of a doomed genius. More recently, in Rocketman, Taron Egerton's young Elton John, blinded and confused by the first rush of fame, was equally uncanny.

    However, in my opinion, the award for best performance as a hapless rocker goes to Gary Oldman. Appearing opposite the brilliant Chloe Webb in 1986's Sid and Nancy, the actor embodies the public and private persona of Sex Pistol's Sid Vicious with a fullness that takes my breath away. Particularly impressive is the scene on the cold streets of New York in which he dreams of fixing things. An atmosphere of vulnerability mitigates senseless acts of explosive violence. Despite the carnage, Oldman brings tenderness to his character's deeply dysfunctional relationship with Nancy Spungen, which remains rooted in love until the gruesome end.

    Chloe Webb and Gary Oldman in Sid & Nancy

    The film is not without its missteps. Although recent evidence suggests that Vicious was not in fact the man who killed Spungen in his Chelsea Hotel room in Manhattan, Cox portrays him as the culprit. Great – after all, that was the accepted wisdom of the time. But the decision to show the couple reunited in a tender embrace in the back of a taxi after the bassist's death from a heroin overdose in 1979 strikes a somber note that seems to exonerate the killer. Sid and Nancy died in drug-addled poverty at the ages of 21 and 20, respectively. There's no happy ending to be found here.

    Unsurprisingly, Pistols singer John Lydon was even less impressed by the clumsy attempt to tie a bow on a body bag. “To me, this film is the lowest form of life,” he said. “I truly believe it glorifies heroin addiction. It definitely glorifies him at the end when that stupid taxi goes off into the sky.”

    But while the temptation to bring order and resolve the messy lives of madmen is often irresistible, there are some biopics that don't care at all about sending audiences home in a glow of false happiness. Gender Determination & Drugs & Rock & “A Pendant to Hold Your Eyes When Life Gets Terrible” makes good use of Andy Serkis's wonderful image of Ian Dury. Director Mat Whitecross confidently tells the story of a performer touched by genius and madness. The music is great, of course, but even hardcore fans will balk at the idea of ​​having Dury in their lives full-time.

    Other times, indulgent plots can make for an indulgent movie. Try as I might, I can't improve on American comedian Denis Leary's verdict on Oliver Stone's foray into music biopics in 1991's The Doors. “Do we need a two-and-a-half hour movie about The Doors?… I don't think so. I can sum it up in five seconds: I'm drunk, I'm nobody; I'm drunk, I'm famous; I'm drunk, I'm fucking dead,” was his summary of the life of singer Jim Morrison.

    The situation was hardly improved by the addition of nonsense. In fact, now that I think about it, the scene in which Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) replays the trip to Los Angeles was the first time I winced at historical misrepresentation in a musical biopic. Having read the book “Wonderful Prospect” by former band manager Danny Sugarman, I already knew that the singer had never hitchhiked in his life. Remarkably for a man who was once arrested for pulling out his todger on stage, he considered him déclassé. Even today, when I think of this film, this senseless inaccuracy is the first thing that comes to mind. This begs the question: If Stone got this seemingly minor detail wrong, what else was wrong?

    But although “The Doors” is overblown and suggestive, it at least has one important detail. The sight of a drunken and belligerent Morrison egging on the crowd while evading security and police solves the difficult task of recreating a concert that actually looks real. In the world of music biopics, such obstacles are rarely overcome.

    Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors. Photo: Getty

    At CBGB, the actors playing young punks in 1970s New York look like crash test dummies at a party at a karaoke bar. The scene in The Dirt where the surrogates mimic Motley Crue's moves at the Long Beach Arena in Los Angeles somehow accomplishes a task I thought was impossible. It's worse than watching real Motley Crue.

    But while other similar failures are too numerous to mention, it is worth noting the rare successes. 1988's Great Balls of Fire may have been a turkey of such proportions that theaters should have served cranberry sauce rather than popcorn to the few people who saw it, but at least there was footage of Dennis Quaid knocking audiences into concert as Jerry Lee Lewis was quite exciting. Most recently, actor Naomi Ackie's recreation of Whitney Houston's famous performance of the American national anthem before Super Bowl XXV in I Wanna Dance with Somebody captures the scale and splendor of the event itself.

    Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It? Photo: Alami

    As depicted in the film, Houston's life was filled with conflicts that would have been devastating in the real world. In addition to her addiction to hard drugs, her vast talents were undermined by a turbulent relationship with singer Bobby Brown, as well as mismanagement by her spendthrift father. Her career trajectory has been the opposite of that of fellow icon Tina Turner, whose own biopic What's Love Got to Do With It? stunned critics in 1993. At least viewers of this film could take solace in knowing that, having avoided violence, Turner achieved the controversial superstar status she was always entitled to thanks to her husband Ike.

    In particular, what does love have to do with this? earned his happy ending by acknowledging that the world of music is a dangerous place, filled with weirdos and freaks. Despite the well-known truth that women are especially at risk of trespassing on other people's property, The Runaways, on the other hand, ignores the rape allegations made against manager Kim Fowley by bassist Jackie Foxx in favor of an admittedly well-told stories about the implosion of “ordinary and garden”, fueled by anger and drugs. This turning a blind eye to a story that was eventually told in full in the Sky Arts documentary series Looking Away is willful ignorance.

    But even this is better than cunning hagiography. The lack of physical violence against women by former NWA member Dr. Dre in the 2015 film Straight Out Of Compton amounts to a sleight of hand that amounts to artistic cowardice. Then again, what else can you expect when Dre himself is one of the producers of the film? Like many music biopics, his story is very interesting. It is also partial and selective, like party political broadcasting.

    The problem is widespread. At the very least, the success of a biopic depends on providing rights to music written by artists who may not be entirely interested in having the darkest moments of their lives projected onto a movie theater screen. I'll be interested to see how Sam Mendes takes on the story of one of the Beatles. As John Lennon himself once said: “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically – to any woman. I was a striker. I couldn't express myself and hit. I fought men and beat women. That's why [in the 1970s] I always talk about peace.”

    Fortunately, my personal favorite doesn't have flies. Released in 2008, Telstar: The Joe Meek Story features a lead performance from Con O'Neill that is one of the best ever produced in the genre. The charming but psychopathic Mick was not only a brilliant producer, but also a madman who committed suicide after murdering his landlady. Seeing him lose his temper in his home studio is as horrific for the viewer as it is for the bands and artists he threatened and abused. The film seems to understand that this is the fate of so many musicians. Lured by promises of glittering prizes, they fail instead.

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