Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

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domino harvey
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Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#1 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 15, 2017 3:21 am

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THE BIOPICS LIST
January 12 - April 11


Are you there biopics? It’s me, the Criterion Forum.

RULES
Follow the spirit of the list. Even without the following rules, you all broadly know perfectly well what a Biopic is.

Eligible films must be about real humans that actually existed. No biopics of animals (sorry Air Bud: the True Story fans). For the purposes of this list, all religious figures in the Christian Bible and all other religious texts are assumed to be real so long as their stories are placed in a historical context. Thus, you can’t vote for Heaven Can Wait just because Laird Cregar plays the Devil. You can, however, vote for the Passion of the Christ in which the Devil appears in several forms.

Films inspired by real life stories but fictionalized to the point that they change the name and significant narrative aspects of the principal, such as Norma Rae (ie Crystal Lee Sutton), are not eligible.

Films should be centered on one or, if closely entangled, at maximum two real-life protagonists. For instance, Madame Curie, with its focus on the romantic and professional pairing of the Curies, or All the President’s Men, with its focus on the investigation of Woodward and Bernstein, are both eligible. Ensemble historical films with no clear protagonist, such as Cradle Will Rock or Ragtime, are not eligible. Films with (a) central real life character(s) are of course going to have tertiary supporting roles for real life characters, but a film like Reds has a clear protagonist in John Reed, even with a laundry list of real-life figures supporting. Use common sense.

Films should purport to be true, even if they aren’t. A film that takes numerous liberties with the specific truth but gets the broad strokes correct, like, say, the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (or any Hollywood biopic from the studio era, really), is eligible. A wholecloth invention, such as Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, is not. A clearly fictional blending of real life events with fantasy, such as Dick, is not eligible.

Films must be scripted (no documentaries— narrative films with documentary inserts are acceptable). Broadly biopics are and should be narrative works, but a patchwork film like 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould is undeniably a biopic, so I won’t press it. Films must be feature-length, here defined as 45 minutes or longer.

Films can pertain to a limited narrative scope (one afternoon, one week, one month, etc) or an expansive one (from birth to death). Films can focus on one important incident or moment, or multiple highlights from throughout a lifetime.

A film’s subject should be someone of artistic, cultural, or political importance. This is hardly limiting, but worth remembering. Biopics exist because someone important needed their story told. Who is important is subjective, but members are encouraged again to use their judgment but also remember the spirit of the project.


HOW TO VOTE
The minimum, maximum, and standard number of films listed on your ballot is 25 in ranked order (1 being best, and so on). If you can read this post, you can participate in the list! Lists should be PMed to me, domino harvey, no later than April 11, 2018. No lists will be accepted before January 12th.


FORUM RESOURCES

(In progress)

A Dangerous Method / American Gangster / the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford / Battle of the Sexes / Big Eyes / the Birth of a Nation / Black Mass / Bright Star / Bridge of Spies / Burning Bush / Camille Claudel, 1915 / Captain Phillips / Charlie Wilson's War / Christine / Coco Before Chanel / Control / Dallas Buyers Club / the Danish Girl / Darkest Hour / Diana / the Disaster Artist / the Diving Bell and the Butterfly / Factory Girl / Foxcatcher / the Founder / Frost/Nixon / Fruitvale Station / the Grandmaster / Grey Gardens (2009) / Hitchcock / I'm Not There / the Imitation Game & the Theory of Everything / the Impossible / Into the Wild / Invictus / the Iron Lady / J Edgar / Jackie / Joy / Julie & Julia / the King's Speech / Last King of Scotland / Lee Daniels' the Butler / Lincoln / Loving / Marie Antoinette / Milk / Molly's Game / Moneyball / Mr Turner / My Week With Marilyn / Noah / the Notorious Bettie Page / 127 Hours / Phil Spector / the Queen / Redoubtable / the Revenant / the Rum Diary / Selma / the Social Network / Sully / Trumbo / 12 Years a Slave / Valkyrie / W / the Walk / Wild / the Wolf of Wall Street

20 Sid & Nancy
70 the Last Temptation of Christ
105 Spartacus
109 the Scarlet Empress
228 Salvatore Giuliano
293 the Flowers of St Francis
320 Young Mr Lincoln
456 the Taking of Power of Louis XIV
464 Danton
503 Lola Montes
558 Topsy-Turvy
582 Carlos
773 Breaker Morant
828 the New World

Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films
Eclipse Series 16: Alexander Korda's Private Lives

Films About Composers

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Auteur List: Luis Buñuel - Discussion and Defenses

#2 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:47 pm

domino harvey wrote:Congrats Rayon Vert, I never even get close to watching everything I want for a List Project. I've enjoyed your write ups, hopefully you'll rejoin us in Biopics in a few weeks!
Thanks. Maybe you guys can send me PMs with your recommendations for the best biopics, and put 'em up in a thread somewhere, and then I'll try to acquire some of those and join you - because I believe my existing knowledge and stockpile of those is fairly low.

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Re: The Lists Project

#3 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:58 pm

I have a relatively low physical media stockpile of about forty unwatched films for that one, and then about twenty five digital films on top of that, though preference is given to the titles taking up actual space right now! I'll PM you my preliminary first pass list in alphabetical order though

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Re: The Lists Project

#4 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Dec 27, 2017 3:36 pm

Just checking, but for the biopics I gather Shakespeare's histories count? (Like Henry V, not Macbeth.)

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Re: The Lists Project

#5 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 27, 2017 3:38 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:Just checking, but for the biopics I gather Shakespeare's histories count? (Like Henry V, not Macbeth.)
Unless they break one of the rules I outlined in the thread, they should be fine!

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Re: The Lists Project

#6 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 31, 2017 2:25 am

I'm trying to get a head start on the biopics project. I have a question regarding the eligibility of a film involving the "films should purport to be true, even if they aren't" rule, and that is Aguirre, Wrath of God, which I'm thinking of revisiting. From Wiki:
Although based loosely on what is known of the historical figure of Aguirre, the film's storyline is, as Herzog acknowledged years after the film's release, a work of fiction. Some of the people and situations may have been inspired by Gaspar de Carvajal's account of an earlier Amazonian expedition, although Carvajal's was not on the historical voyage represented in the film. Other accounts state that the expedition went into the jungles but never returned to civilization.
Herzog revealed this later on, but on the surface the film presents itself as a historical account.

For other reasons I'm also wondering about Stone's JFK. I've seen this one mentioned in many biopics lists online, but I cannot see how a good case can be made that it's a biopic of JFK. Even if it's only a moment in time, this is only about his death, and not from his perspective. But I imagine that the film is mentioned in such lists because it's the story of Jim Garrison's investigation, and as such it's not very different from films like All the President's Men and Zodiac.

What's the verdict for these films?

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Re: The Lists Project

#7 Post by zedz » Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:11 am

Re. Biopic recommendations:
This is one of my least favourite genres, but a lot of truly great films have been made within its loose boundaries, so I’ll spill out recommendations for Andrew Rublyov, Pirosmani and The Colour of Pomegranates (as you may surmise, biopics of approved historical figures were reasonably ‘safe’ subjects with the Soviet authorities).

Pialat’s Van Gogh is a great film, and probably the best Van Gogh biography. Beg, borrow or steal Todd Haynes’ Superstar. Immerse yourself in Peter Watkins’ Edward Munch and Yoshida’s stunning Eros Plus Massacre.

Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion is one of the more obvious recent films, as is Serra’s stately and amusing Death of Louis XIV.

All great films that are coincidentally biopics.

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Re: The Lists Project

#8 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:38 am

Rayon Vert: Good questions. JFK is arguably a biopic of Jim Garrison. It didn't occur to me til you mentioned it, but now I think I'll vote for it! So, eligible. Aguirre is a bit trickier, but ultimately I think yea, eligible

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Re: The Lists Project

#9 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:16 pm

zedz wrote:I’ll spill out recommendations for Andrew Rublyov, Pirosmani and The Colour of Pomegranates (as you may surmise, biopics of approved historical figures were reasonably ‘safe’ subjects with the Soviet authorities).

Pialat’s Van Gogh is a great film, and probably the best Van Gogh biography. Beg, borrow or steal Todd Haynes’ Superstar. Immerse yourself in Peter Watkins’ Edward Munch and Yoshida’s stunning Eros Plus Massacre.

Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion is one of the more obvious recent films, as is Serra’s stately and amusing Death of Louis XIV.

All great films that are coincidentally biopics.
I'll definitely look into these. Unfortunately Superstar is 43 minutes, so it looks like it's not eligible.

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Re: The Lists Project

#10 Post by bottled spider » Sun Dec 31, 2017 5:02 pm

There's this thread in Other Lists: Films About Composers.
A personal favourite, about the writer Brodsky: Sentimental Journey to the Motherland ("Poltory komnaty ili Sentimentalnoe puteshestvie na Rodinu"), AKA Room and a Half
And one I'll revisit before recommending: Saura's Goya in Bordeaux. For one thing, this might be more in the vein of Amadeus than a real biopic. I'd have to refresh my memory.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#11 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:13 am

All right, here we go

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#12 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:46 am

I guess Larrain's Neruda probably doesn't quite fit in under these rules (unlike his Jackie). ;-)

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#13 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:49 am

Correct, it is not eligible

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#14 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:57 am

Naruse's Horoki / Wanderer's Notebook would seem to fit the criteria (based on Fumiko Hayashi's own memoir of her own early days).

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#15 Post by knives » Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:58 pm

I think contrary to Zedz there's a great wealth of biopics. It's just that like anything else 90% of them are terrible. Anyway I've pre-gamed a little and here's a few of them.

Truth
This plays like warmed over Sorkin and is not helped by the fact that the angle it takes isn't all that compelling. Dan Rather risking his career is a pretty special story and would seem a couple of years in advance of where we were. Instead it gives us an okay Blanchett performance entirely focused on the topic of the investigation which bone spurs show just isn't a compelling approach for now. The film is okay enough that tackling it on political grounds only seems reasonable for criticism. In that sense this film is probably important if not good since it in an organic manner tackles a lot of the same ground that Spotlight did better plus a lot of stuff specifically relevant to the Trump era such as the effect of conservative blog rumours, attacks against the media, news reporting on news, and sensationalism. This is material worth watching if just for the intensity the relevance brings, but its suit is a little too shabby. As an addendum to the above which I wrote last month I have to admit that many parts of the film have stained my mind with the quality that the relevance of the work is presented superseding its mediocre elements.

Infamous
I suppose I'm legally obligated to mention Miller's film which is technically better due to a few small choices, but frankly this is a more satisfying film. The main difference in approach is that this seems concerned with being Capote whereas the other takes the tone of the book. McGrath makes this genuinely funny and fun where the drama eases in on a disturbing train rather than being there from the start. The casting also is frankly better highlighting the gay theater the film runs with. You've got Bogdanovich, Rossellini, even Bullock as Harper Lee screams more of the writer of Breakfast at Tiffany's than a crime drama. I think this, and Jones' unquestionably better performance, works better at placing Capote in this world and realizing him. It's also much more open and clear about Capote's sexuality which was practically left to Bush era subtext in Miller's film and only openly developed through a morose sense contrary to the public figure. That said the writing of the film manages to regularly undercut the direction and performances. For example there's a too cute by half running gag about Harper Lee writing a second book that grates on the ears and the film opens with a documentary talking heads device that dumbs down the film with unnecessary exposition. Also while the attempt at flamboyancy is admirable and occasionally achieves a David Lynch high it does often feel like a straight and narrow attempt at realizing such a goal.

This is a much better film than Miller's as it is trying to achieve something much more complex that ultimately plays like Icarus' wings. Still, the film manages to look beautiful when it's airborn like in the humourous sadness that it accomplishes in the scenes with Daniel Craig.

The Childhood of Maxim Gorky
Coming in I assumed I would have to handicap the film to meet its reputation. Afterall this is a film aimed squarely at children made during one of Stalin's most austere periods for artists. Certainly some of that handicapping has to be done as this doesn't really hold its own against other dark children's films like Ivan's Childhood or Sammy Goes South, but that context consideration is rather minimal with Donskoy's vision of the pains of childhood under the Czar having such a psychological realism that the Stalanists elements even manage to work. The first half packs the more immediate punch because it has a much more clear and traditional thorough line with the rivalry of the uncles, but I think I liked the second half more. The reason being that Gorky takes on a more active role exploring what he learned in the first half. The plot is also a lot shaggier wandering from event to event without any real goal. That helps both in developing Gorky's character and in making this more than what its Stalinist nature would suggest. Admittedly the revolutionary elements of the film such as the young actor playing Gorky or the memory inspired structure have since been done better, but considering how hard it is to come up, for me, with reliable precedents it's hard not to be awed by the film even while acknowledging that the years haven't been the kindest towards it.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#16 Post by zedz » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:06 pm

knives wrote:I think contrary to Zedz there's a great wealth of biopics. It's just that like anything else 90% of them are terrible.
I think you misunderstood: that's exactly my opinion as well.

Here's a bunch more recommendations of films that people might overlook:

Zodiac (Fincher) - considered as a biopic of Graysmith, it fits.

I, Pierre Riviere, Having Killed My Mother, My Sister and My Brother. . . (Allio) - Austere, engrossing Bressonian reenactment of a notorious 19th century murder. There are a bunch of 'true crime' films that qualify for this list (perhaps even some celebrated noirs that have slipped my mind), but unfortunately Imamura's great Vengeance Is Mine isn't one of them. Although it's the story of an actual killer, his name was changed for the book and movie.

The Gospel According to Matthew (Pasolini) and The Flowers of St Francis (Rossellini) - The two greatest 'saints 'n' messiahs' biopics for me, though there's a bunch of Joan of Arcs to consider, of course.

The Chronicle of Anna Magdelena Bach (Huillet / Straub) - And this is the best of the composer biopics.

Every Man for Himself and God Against All (Herzog)

Cabeza de Vaca (Ecchevaria) - Herzog reminded me of this intense Mexican film in the vein of Aguirre.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader)

My Darling Clementine (Ford) - This qualifies, right? There are probably a number of westerns that do (all those Jesse James films, for starters), but this is likely the only one that will trouble my list.

Sink or Swim (Friedrich) - This may have people screaming "foul!" because it's radically unlike any of the other films under consideration, but it's a portrait of Su Friedrich's father, and it's not a documentary, and it's a scripted narrative (though an unusually structured one), so doesn't that make it a biopic?

In the same vein, this next one really pushes the form, and is anyway ineligible for reasons of length, but it's definitely worth seeking out and could make for some interesting discussions:

Wanda Gosciminska - Weaver (Wisniewski) - Phantasmagoric portrait of the title character, who is played by the woman herself, but again, this is no documentary. Or, to be more precise, it's like no documentary - or fiction film - you've seen.

And opinions / rulings are invited for:

Les Ordres (Brault) - Fiction film based on true events, but I can't recall whether the character names were changed or not. At any rate, does having a collective protagonist disqualify a film from biopic status? Would a film about, say, a successful sports team, that doesn't focus on a central figure, not qualify?

EDIT: I see domino dealt with this in the opening post, but this is one of those films that falls between "one or two people" and "broad history", being based on the stories of five prisoners. I don't really think of it as a biopic in the conventional sense, but it's on the margins.
Last edited by zedz on Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#17 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:15 pm

Virtually the first two that come to mind are The Passion of Joan of Arc and Raging Bull. Ages ago, I recall someone telling me how much he thought biopics were a terrible genre, and those two films (as well as Rublev) were the first films I offered as a rebuttal. I recall walking away from that conversation thinking the best biopics were often overlooked as "biopics," at least at the time, thanks to a glut of musical films like Ray and I Walk the Line that were defining a typical movie-goer's idea of a biopic: a schematic survey of life milestones and career highlights.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#18 Post by knives » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:26 pm

zedz wrote:
knives wrote:I think contrary to Zedz there's a great wealth of biopics. It's just that like anything else 90% of them are terrible.
I think you misunderstood: that's exactly my opinion as well.
I guess I just don't see how that is a notable opinion since that applies to every subsection of film.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#19 Post by swo17 » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:25 pm

I think the point is that bad biopics tend to be more excruciating than bad films from other genres.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#20 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:45 pm

I find it’s easy to overlook films you own or like that you wouldn’t automatically think would fit the criteria. Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man is one I thought of today.
Last edited by Rayon Vert on Fri Jan 12, 2018 8:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#21 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:57 pm

domino harvey wrote:Rayon Vert: Good questions. JFK is arguably a biopic of Jim Garrison. It didn't occur to me til you mentioned it, but now I think I'll vote for it! So, eligible.
Stone’s got 9 of these suckers if you count World Trade Center.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#22 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:09 pm

I started as soon as the new year came around and I’ve been hurrying (and taking advantage of the holidays), trying to get through all the revisits I want to do so that I have a lot of time (probably not enough though, I would wager) to go to work on the small truckload that I’ve ordered for this project. And which the Criterion Forum has gladly accepted to fund (you’ll get the bill soon). :D This is my first batch (Captain Phillips being the lone virgin watch here, caught on Netflix).


L’Histoire d’Adèle H. (Truffaut 1975). Truffaut used this material concerning Victor Hugo’s daughter to riff again on the theme of obsessional love, which is an object of fascination but not of (ambiguous) admiration as in Bunuel, given how negatively it always gets painted: the false idealization of the other, the lack of honesty with oneself that is involved, the egotism and self-absorption, and the many destructive consequences for self and others. The theme clearly speaks to the director given its recurrence in his work: Catherine in Jules et Jim, for example; in the comic mode, many of Jean-Pierre Léaud’s moments, whether in Baisers volés with Madame Tabard, in La Nuit américaine when he verbalizes to the Jacqueline Bisset character about the woman who’s left him, wondering how one can be full of contempt for the person one loves, which are remarks made again here by Adèle that reveal a basic problem with this kind of “love”; and most especially of Muriel in Les Deux Anglaises, almost a copy of Adèle in her cult of devotion to the absolute that constitutes this passion, as well as in her furious letter-writing throughout (she also experiences hurt with her eyes – as if Truffaut is saying these people are not really seeing correctly). Far from the virtuous character that others imagine her to be, Adèle here lies throughout, resorts to threats and manipulation to get what she wants from her past lover, and he himself is revealed right at the start to be an all-too-human, rather cold character, who is obviously not worthy of all this devotion.

The film has a strange beauty even though it’s only partially successful. It’s hard to share Adèle’s passion or care all that much about her given how all that we know of her is this all-consuming obsession. That is possibly the point here – even in her appearance she is a bit of a phantom who, as the film progresses, only becomes more and more insubstantial. One can see the film as being about a struggle for identity, of Adèle’s desperate, unconscious attempt to define herself outside of her monumental father, expressed in the various times and ways she disguises her identity in the film and in the film’s very title that doesn’t spell out her full name. The film is more of a psychological and thematic study than a historical drama, but at the same time there is serious attention paid to dimensions of the historical context, that are expressed at different points in the film and which frame and bracket the events in this person’s story, and that provide, for example, a partial, unexplained glimpse in a true-to-life, lesser-known detail like the Hugo family’s devotion to nascent spiritualism (communicating with spirits).


Rescue Dawn (Herzog 2006). I guess this can be filed under the survival exploits subgenre of the biographical film, but in a war context. Herzog makes an impressive enough action thriller out of the Dieter Dengler story that he had previously covered in the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. I thought this didn’t completely carry over the emotion that was in the very fine earlier doc but there’s both good drama and suspense here and Christian Bale is quite good. Nothing earth-shattering but a solid little film that I’m fond of and like revisiting.


Sergeant York (Hawks 1941). A thread ties everything together (which one could say is perhaps a fundamental challenge for any biopic) but this still feels a little disjointed and like at least two movies, with the “sergeant” part not kicking in until the last hour. It’s a fun, quality film, but uneven through all its different parts. I’m a sucker for the beautifully photographed second quarter, the part where Alvin York sets his sights on Gracie Williams and on acquiring a “piece of bottomland”, so that everything that comes after that is a bit disappointing in comparison. Great sequence at the end there where York gets those machine-gunning Heinies, though.


Spartacus (Kubrick 1960). Fairly cheese-free for a film of the genre. An extremely fine and memorable first third is dampened by some more forgettable material in the middle, but the last third is again very strong. There are some clunky elements – a scene here, some scenery there – but on the whole this is solid.


The Libertine (Dunmore 2004). Johnny Depp, in a role that seems to have been tailor-made for him, plays the Earl of Rochester, a real life literary figure but in this tableau a rewriting of Dangerous Liaisons’ Valmont, a cynic roused briefly to life by a doomed love. Some of it seems played for shock value, but I still find something here alluring enough to warrant the occasional reatch – although part of that is simply because it does a good job of evoking Restoration London. And that atmospheric ash-green photography portrays some sort of state of the soul – I’d like to see how this would look on a Blu because the DVD is really quite poor. Definitely better than the reviews at the time made it out to be, but at the same time I will grant that it feels like the film’s potential is not quite fully realized.


El Cid (Mann 1961). The best I’ve seen so far in the sword-and-sandal genre. Family and internal governmental intrigues plague efforts to thwart North African invaders in the 11th century. A series of compelling narrative developments is executed with panache by Mann, that’s just as good as his 40s-to-50s work: mythic-sized passion (a really good Heston here in particular), great action sequences, and terrific visual compositions throughout. It’s also all beautifully designed interior sets or real exteriors (all filmed in Spain), with none of those fake Hollywood exteriors that are the occasional eyesore in films like Spartacus. Add to that a rousing Rozsa score and on top of all that an appealing Christian and Muslim brotherhood sub-theme. Definitely recommended.


Captain Phillips (Greengrass 2013). So I noticed the shaky cam right at the start of the movie but I only saw the director’s name when the credits came up at the end - and I went “Ah, ok”. I thought this was just an above-average action thriller and at the same time not one for the ages. Beyond that I just don’t see anything else here; nothing earth-shatteringly new, no great emotion evoked.


The Scarlet Empress (Sternberg 1934). It may or may not make my list depending on what I’ll wind up discovering but what a worthy film this is and what a strange beast to come out of the Hollywood studio system – although maybe not so strange when you take into account that it was made at Paramount (home, during this period, of irony, sophistication, erotic naughtiness, visual sensualism, the European-flavored, and a propensity with experimentation and the bizarre). The comedy is really dry but at the same time quite exalted, sometimes almost in Mel Brooks territory, in addition to being as risqué as any Lubitsch. The story seems almost an excuse to make a film that is just completely, unrestrainedly, about style: the darkly lit photography and décor, an excess of luminous shots of Dietrich through gauze, and the screen constantly filled with those huge, grotesque statues the tone of which parallels the film’s story and the painting of that Russian court as pure insanity. At film’s end, as Catherine comes to power, it’s as if the pretense of narrative has almost been sacrificed to an almost abstract series of visual flourishes.


Mary of Scotland (Ford 1936). Ford’s sympathies are evidently, and naturally, pro-Catholic and Stuart here. I seemed to remember something to like here, but had a hard time finding it this time around. Sets and (frequently chiaroscuro) cinematography are handsome, but the film is somewhat dull, and it’s not that smartly directed or acted (Hepburn, March).


Witchfinder General (Reeves 1968). I’d say this counts as a biopic since it purports to detail the exploits of Matthew Hopkins. I know I’m not alone in appreciating this semi-exploitation flick – very pretty exterior scenes and extremely solid direction contribute to a slightly arty more-than-B flick.


Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Hergoz 1972). Don’t have much to say here. Didn’t like it as much as last time around, but still I admire it. There are some exquisite images, and of course Kinski is something else.


I’ll Cry Tomorrow
(D. Mann 1955). Hollywood artiste biopic meets woman’s film meets 50s social message film (alcoholism). Susan Hayward does the life of singer-actress Lillian Roth. It’ll probably not make my list but this is really an above-par film for the genre(s). Hayward is really terrific and her Oscar-nominated performance allows for the film to largely succeed through its roller coaster of potentially soap-opera-ish narrative developments. The film is pretty unrelenting in its realism, with Richard Conte also memorable as a shockingly sleazy husband. Also a very good-looking film.


Queen Christina
(Mamoulian 1933). Wow, this film really calls out for a queer reading. Even before the start of the woman-pretending-to-be-a-man plot starts at the Garbo-Gilbert meet-up, we have the (never more than here androgynous, Bowie-lookalike) Garbo as a young queen kissing a woman on the mouth out of the blue, and not much later describing herself as “a bachelor”.

It’s a somewhat overrated film though. There’s frequently something a bit awkward about Garbo’s acting, although some would say that’s part of her usual style and charm. More significantly, though it’s a well-made Hollywood historical production of its era, the first, slightly wry, lighthearted half gives way to a somewhat dull dramatic second half which really pales by comparison.


Elizabeth (Kapur 1998). You could also probably make a list project with just all of the Tudor bio films that have been made. My fourth female monarch biopic already and there’s some more down the pipeline (and that’s three films, with Mary of Scotland and Queen Christina, where one of the important plot points is the strong concern with the monarch marrying a Catholic royal).

This still stands up very well and I can see little to find fault with. Maybe just a minor quibble or two with a few, slightly too-cute elements surrounding the early romance and the over-the-top Duc d’Anjou (Vincent Cassel), and a comparatively weak Joseph Fiennes as the young Queen’s lover. Those things aren’t enough to detract from a visually appealing costume-and-set movie that’s also nicely dramatic and quite suspenseful with all of the intrigue and court machinations. And Cate and Geoffrey Rush offer two very strong performances. The film builds up to a splendid finale, and that final scene carries some of the same message that was the whole point of The Taking of Power by Louis XIV.

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#23 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:16 pm

If someone is trying to jog their memory about biopics or see what exists, Wiki has an extensive chronological list of biographical films.

There are also alphabetical lists by decade, for example the 1950s.

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knives
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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#24 Post by knives » Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:51 pm

swo17 wrote:I think the point is that bad biopics tend to be more excruciating than bad films from other genres.
Documentary would like a word with this statement.

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Re: Biopics List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

#25 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:03 am

domino harvey wrote:Films should be centered on one or, if closely entangled, at maximum two real-life protagonists.

Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films
I'm wondering about The Age of the Medici. If it counted, I would vote for it, but I don't think it should and therefore I won't, unless there's a ruling otherwise. It can be argued the series (which is really two films) is tied to two figures, Cosimo de Medici and Leon Alberti, amongst a whole slew of other personages, but they are not closely entangled and their stories are separate. (Conversely, Acts of the Apostles - for those who are able to see it; I might revisit it - focuses mostly on Peter and Paul and their stories are arguably "closely entangled".) Luckily Rossellini has got plenty of other films that fit the bill, and at least one of them I'll be voting for.

Also, The Honeymoon Killers is another Criterion biopic.

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