Print The Legend

10 Of The Best Musical Biopics

Tuesday 3rd October 2017

The rock 'n' roll biopic can often be a bit of a flop. Films often disappoint film-goers and offend loyal fans of the subject artist, but when directors and actors get it right, the results can become entertaining, informative pieces of art in their own right, often introducing artists to new fans that would have otherwise overlooked them. While these films are sometimes prone to exaggeration or subjective memory, there is an argument that this is for the best. As stated by Steve Coogan, speaking as Tony Wilson in, '24 Hour Party People':

"I agree with John Ford, when you have to choose between the truth and the legend, print the legend”.

We take a look at some of the best dramatisations of rock 'n' roll that you may or may not have seen.

'24 Hour Party People'
Featuring the quote mentioned above, '24 Hour Party People' takes an imaginative look at the career of Manchester's favourite Factory owner, Tony Wilson. From the signing of Joy Division, through 'Blue Monday' to the costly antics of The Happy Mondays, Michael Winterbottom's postmodern account of the events that shaped the Madchester scene is unique among biopics, frequently ignoring the conventions of the fourth wall. Cameos include the late Tony Wilson himself, Mark E. Smith, Clint Boon and several notable faces from the scene playing themselves.

Sharing some common subject matter and characters with '24 Hour Party People' but recalled from a very different perspective, 'Control' is based on the book 'Touching From A Distance', written by Deborah Curtis. It tells the story of Ian Curtis' struggles, their marriage and family, and ultimately Ian Curtis' suicide. Dramatically directed by Anton Corbijn, there is a notable cameo by Dr John Cooper Clarke as himself performing 'Evidently Chickentown' in one of the film's gig scenes.

'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll'
The second film mentioned so far to include Andy Serkis, who also played Joy Division producer Martin Hannett in '24 Hour Party People', 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' sees the actor take centre stage as Ian Dury. Much of the film's focus deals with Dury's battle with disability, and others' attitude towards it, throughout his life and career and on his relationship with his family, including of course his son, Baxter Dury, played by actor Bill Milner. 

'Sid and Nancy'
Gary Oldman took the role of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in Alex Cox's 1986 film. The film centres on the relationship between Vicious and Nancy Spungen (played by Cloe Webb), the couple's descent into drug use their eventual deaths. Cameos include Iggy Pop, and the supporting cast includes a pre-Hole, Courtney Love. Much has been made of the fact, in the years since Kurt Cobain's death, that Courtney Love had auditioned for the role of Nancy Spungen, with similarities lazily drawn between the two rock 'n' roll relationships. Perhaps oddly for a film about a member of The Sex Pistols, the soundtrack is composed by Joe Strummer of The Clash.

'I'm Not There'
One of the more complex and abstract biopics to emerge in recent years, 'I'm Not There' tells the story of Bob Dylan through the portrayal of six different characters, played by six different actors inspired by six different facets of Bob Dylan's career. Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw all take a turn conveying an interpretation of the many lives of Bob Dylan. 

'Nowhere Boy'
From not there to nowhere, Sam Taylor Wood's film tells the story of John Lennon's teenage years. Written by Matt Greenhalgh, who also wrote 'Control', the film shows a young Lennon discovering music set against his complicated relationship with his mother and aunt. Notable moments include his mother teaching him to play the banjo, his aunt buying him his first guitar, and John meeting Paul and George through the formation of his first band, The Quarrymen. The soundtrack features an instrumental score by Goldfrapp alongside numerous rock 'n' roll songs from the period.

'Walk The Line'
Although 2005's 'Walk The Line' is the big-budget Hollywood Oscar magnet that can be thanked for the resurgence of the rock biopic in recent years, the idea for the film was born way back on the set of a 1993 episode of the TV show 'Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman'. Johnny Cash himself appeared in an episode of the Jane Seymour wild west drama series becoming friends with the episode's director, James Keach, who would go on to develop and produce 'Walk The Line'.

'The Runaways'
As the title suggests, 'The Runaways' tackles the often overlooked story of the band that gave the world Joan Jett. Based on the autobiography of Jett's fellow runaway Cherie Currie, the narrative is told largely from the singer's perspective, eventually leaving the band to deal with addiction. Despite critics pointing out the Mainstream Hollywood nature of some of the casting, both Currie and Jett praised the film and the portrayals of them by Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart respectively, though Currie pointed out that the film is much lighter in tone and content than her book.

'Miles Ahead'
Taking its name from one of his albums, 'Miles Ahead' loosely tells the story of Jazz Musician Miles Davis, starring, written, produced and directed by Don Cheadle. Another biopic to employ a non-linear approach, the film is set at various periods in Davis' career and explores the artist's life through a series of fictional adventures with a music journalist played by Ewan McGregor. Don Cheadle reportedly described the style of the film as modal, referencing modal Jazz's alternating moods and sections.

'Jimi: All Is by My Side'
Directed by John Ridley who went on to write '12 Years A Slave', the Jimi Hendrix biopic notable for not containing any Jimi Hendrix songs, due to disagreements with the Hendrix estate. This fact does not stop Outkast's André 3000 and his band portraying Hendrix's famous live cover of The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heartclub Band' in 1967.

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