It’s a flood of biopics that has been taking over our screens for a few years. Often technical challenges on the part of performers and directors, feature films must succeed in injecting new life into the stories of personalities who are often very popular and adored by their audiences, without distorting their heritage.
“Elvis” by Baz Lurhmann, an extraordinary object on the destiny of the King of rock’n’roll, is released in theaters today and brilliantly takes up the challenge imposed by the genre. Other films have succeeded in reviving the myths of the world of music, their passion and their presence. Here are twelve, among dozens, which promise surprises and catchy melodies.
“Amadeus” by Miloš Forman (1984)
In the early 80s, Mozart was the subject of a film worthy of its legend, since Miloš Forman’s production won eight Oscars. Before being unveiled again, in 2002, enriched by 20 additional minutes, to express all the complexity of the composer. A masterpiece of the genre, “Amadeus” is a complex incursion, and not without bias and freedom from reality, into the life of the maestro and his art which sometimes borders on the metaphysical.
“Bird” by Clint Eastwood (1988)
The Charlie Parker myth revisited by Clint Eastwood’s camera, resulting in a poignant, controlled film that has become a benchmark in the perilous world of the biopic. Here, it is the life of this visionary jazzman, playing the saxophone with unparalleled virtuosity, that the director tries to tell through a romantic story, where the tormented life of the artist contrasts with his scenic flights . Juggling behind the scenes between drugs and alcohol, “Bird” is complex, full of roughness and brilliantly embodied by Forest Whitaker, who will receive the prize for male interpretation at Cannes.
“The Doors”, by Oliver Stone (1991)
Dividing the spectators on its release, “The Doors” by Oliver Stone attacked, it must be said, a monument of rock music: Jim Morrison. A whimsical figure, imbued with mysticism, the legendary leader of the Doors is played with force by Val Kilmer, while the film delves into the beginnings of the formation. Poet, already guided by a spirituality from his childhood in New Mexico, the musician proves to be inhabited throughout the biopic, alongside the formidable Meg Ryan in the skin of Pamela Courson, his companion. The film, not without flaws, is in the image of the character who inspires it: elusive, fiery and terribly creative.
“8 Mile”, by Curtis Hanson (2002)
A biopic interpreted by the artist himself. And a tidal wave upon his release for Eminem, who retraces during this feverish fiction his teenage life in Detroit and his rise within the very closed world of rap. Here, the character does not bear his name – Marshall Bruce Mathers III -, but Jimmy Smith Jr. is constantly confronted with family, professional and sentimental setbacks, as he struggles to find his place between the white suburbs and the black neighborhoods of his city, separated by a dividing line known as 8 Mile Road. Won over by stage fright, lacking in self-confidence, he delivers an initiatory and flamboyant story, carried by a world hit, “Lose Yourself”, which has become one of the biggest successes of his career and crowned with an Oscar.
“Ray” by Taylor Hackford (2004)
A captivating portrait of the life of the blind singer and composer, Taylor Hackford’s “Ray” is a real success. As much for its casting, which earned Jamie Foxx an Oscar when it came out, which lends its features to the prodigy, as for its soundtrack punctuated with classics that we like to rediscover. From his modest beginnings to his rise to international fame, the biopic tells the story of an extraordinary journey and pays tribute to the adversity of the musician to the rhythm of jazz and blues.
“Walk The Line”, by James Mangold (2006)
A true classic of cinema, “Walk The Line” is a musical whirlwind, at the heart of the life of country singer Johnny Cash. We rediscover with pleasure his singular voice, as deep and black as the night, and singing the pain of bruised love and the thirst to survive. His music, moving, full of life, grabs the guts and is unlike anything that has ever existed. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon have us hooked in this saga about love, death, sin and hope. James Mangold’s film is the encounter between these two inhabited actors. And it’s huge.
“Control”, by Anton Corbijn (2007)
Presented at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, “Control” immerses us in the musical whirlwind that took hold of Manchester in the late 1970s. And focuses on one of the greatest legends of the Manchester scene: Ian Curtis , the singer of Joy Division, a romantic young man who hangs himself, at the age of twenty-three, paralyzed at the idea of having lost “control” over his life. By emphasizing his moral torment and his epileptic condition, the film turns Ian Curtis into a post-punk Dostoyevskian hero, sobering up, eaten away by forces beyond him.
“The Kid”, by Olivier Dahan (2007)
A film in the form of a coronation for Marion Cotillard. She is La Môme in this poignant film about the tormented life of Edith Piaf, from her childhood to fame, from her victories to her wounds. Standing in front of her microphone, hunched over, almost bald, the actress, in one of the strongest roles, immediately grabs the viewer, and sweeps away any reluctance. An intimate, sensitive portrait, not without length and heaviness, which will earn Marion Cotillard her first Oscar. And will become a classic for anyone wishing to immerse themselves, beyond records and biographies, in the life of this deeply moving icon of French song.
“Barbara”, by Mathieu Almaric (2017)
A film-maze, Mathieu Almaric’s “Barbara” is a subtle game that you have to take the time to enjoy. With Jeanne Balibar who borders on illusion in the role of the great singer, the director heightens the challenge by producing a film within a film. A bold proposition, the biopic mixes archival footage, recordings and interviews to confuse the viewer. But, despite everything, the magic works and delivers a fascinating story of creation and deconstruction.
“Bohemian Rhapsody”, by Bryan Singer (2018)
Intense and immersive, the film on the creation of the legendary rock group Queen is a real spectacle, carried by the feverish performance of Rami Malek in Freddie Mercury. Effective, “Bohemian Rhapsody” redoubles its rhythm and breath to portray a meteoric rise and an equally terrible fall. A breathtaking production, huge success at the worldwide box office, which culminates in the reconstruction of Live Aid from 1985, a musical ode to love and communion.
“Judy” by Rupert Goold (2019)
Focusing on the London side of the career of Judy Garland, then penniless and forced to engage in a series of concerts to retain custody of her children, “Judy” is an intimate biopic about the wounds and trauma of the singer . In the skin of Judy Garland, Renée Zellweger exudes an emotion that earned her a well-deserved Oscar, among a shower of awards. Multiplying back and forth in the star’s past, the film traces the origins of his success and what led him to become this frail figure, addicted to amphetamines and sleeping pills. A stark portrait of the “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” singer and her extraordinary destiny.
“Aline” by Valérie Lemercier (2020)
“Aline” is certainly not a biopic like the others. By revisiting the life and career of Celine Dion in the vein of a real fake biography, Valérie Lemercier creates a surprise. Liberating and at odds with the conventions of the genre, the film is a breath of fresh air that reconnects with the most kitsch and humorous aspects of the Quebec singer. Passionate about French variety and admirer of its model, Valérie Lemercier, director and leading role, signs an endearing and eccentric portrait of a superstar too often belittled.