Musician biopics must evolve to keep rocking

For a moment, it seemed like the musician’s biopic had fallen apart. In the early 2010s, the handful of musical biopics that hit theaters like runaways or Climb didn’t make waves at the box office, seemingly guaranteeing that Hollywood would have no reason to resurrect the subgenre full-time. But then Straight outta Compton became a box office sensation in 2015, followed by Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018, becoming 20th Century Fox’s fourth greatest film ever made worldwide. With Freddie Mercury securing the kind of box office usually reserved for Marvel superheroes, there was no denying it: the musical biopic was back.

Within a year or two, audiences should be receiving biopics about musicians like Amy Winehouse, The Bee Gees, Bob Marley, Robbie Williams, michael jackson, carol king, and many more. The musician’s biopic is unmissable… so how do you keep this genre alive? The clichés of these films were already apparent in 2007 thanks to inspired parody films like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and they have only become more blatant since. Some (relatively) drastic measures will be necessary to help the biopic musician avoid the worst pitfalls of this subgenre.

Make musician biopics more visually interesting!

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman
Image via Paramount Pictures

One of the brightest flourishes of Rocketman and Elvis decided to make these films totally flamboyant in their visuals. Elton John and Elvis Presley were larger-than-life characters who performed on stage in extravagant outfits and put on shows that throbbed with fervent energy. Even committing to standard cinematography and editing touch-ups would have been an insult to both artists. Thereby, Rocketman and Elvis used a deluge of heightened touches to properly realize the maximalist lives of their central subjects. The scene changes to Elvis alone (an extension of the director by Baz Luhrmann brand movie-making style) were vibrant in a way that put other musicians’ biopics to shame.

However, Bohemian Rhapsody was such a flat film told through sadly appalling editing that reflected more of the film’s tormented production rather than thoughtful ways of exploring Freddie Mercury’s psyche in visual terms. Unfortunately, too many biopics of musicians opt for the forgettable aesthetic of Bohemian Rhapsody rather than pursuing more unique visual schemes that may reflect their specific musicians. It’s as if so many of these features assumed that hearing iconic tunes would be so satisfying to audiences that they didn’t need challenging camera work or creative editing. Who needs compelling images when you have instantly recognizable pop songs?

In the process, however, these examples of a musician biopic only reinforce the perception (which is entirely false) that so many of these movies are simply looking to cash in on famous songs rather than do something interesting as a movie. autonomous. Even if you walked in the cold to Rocketman and Elvis having once lived under a rock not knowing who Elton John and Elvis Presley were, you could still be moved by their bold cinematic choices. On the other hand, there is nothing to retain visually in I saw the light or Boys jersey. Committing to bolder visual choices in future biopics of musicians alone would be enough to make the creeping ubiquity of the genre more bearable.

Musician biographies should reinvent story structure

Austin Butler in
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Most musical biopics take a cradle-to-grave approach to their central subjects. We see them as children, explore the teenage events that would carry over to their fame as adults, the grand romance that defined their lives and, of course, the performances that cemented them as music icons. before concluding with their disappearance. Some musician biopics find clever subversions of this, namely Rocketman ending with Elton John alive and well to reflect how battling addiction is a long-term daily process. Usually, however, there is a very rote approach to chronicling the lives of these musicians in mainstream biopics.

It would be great, however, to explore musicians in ways that go against this traditional approach to storytelling. Other biopics do it all the time, like Steve Jobs brilliantly exploring three specific points in the life of the main maintainer rather than all the events that have ever informed a Mac computer. Unfortunately, biopics of musicians usually seem too shy or lacking in confidence to do a more intimate exploration of famous singers. By trying to cover every nook and cranny of these musicians’ lives, these biopics undermine the unique qualities that made these singers irreplaceable in the first place. The tunes of these musicians were idiosyncratic, but films about their lives rigidly adhere to well-known narrative standards.

Perhaps part of the way this problem could be overcome is to incorporate trappings from other genres into future biopics of musicians. Perhaps visual or thematic motifs associated with film noir could be used to inform the structure of one musician’s story, while another singer might find their cinematic narrative influenced by characteristics of romantic comedies. These do not all have to follow the same walk the line game book that walk hard explored so well in 2007. Let’s explore a variety of story structures and genre influences to ensure that future musician biopics aren’t as likely to be derivative as so many infamous entries in this field.

How Music Biopics Should Evolve

In early 2021, news broke that a biopic about singer Robbie Williams would take a bit of an unorthodox route compared to other biopics of musicians. In this film, the singer would be played, at least to some extent, by a CGI monkey, a detail the real Williams hasn’t denied in recent interviews about the film. The idea of ​​doing a musician biopic with an extremely expensive CGI character despite the fact that those movies, unless they’re about Freddie Mercury, rarely cross the $300 million mark worldwide…it’s insane . It’s also why we need to see bolder creative swings like this.

Who knows if this biopic of Williams, which would have been titled best man, will be all good. But the decision to heavily feature a CGI monkey as a replacement for the central singer is such an absurd idea that you can’t help but admire it. That’s not a normal thing for a musician biopic and that’s why more entries in this genre should take inspiration from that decision. We don’t necessarily need CGI primates around all these biopics (though I’m not saying we don’t need them either), but we should see more of these movies to take unexpected creative risks. The musician’s biopic occasionally delivered Rocketman and Elvis in recent years, but he’s otherwise been mired in punchlines about his predictability. Daring to embrace things as outrageous as CGI monkeys more often could be the start to ensuring the next wave of musician biopics avoid the sour notes of the past.

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