Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Prince Biopic?

BET claims to give ten good reasons that it's not a good idea. (HT to Ann Althouse for putting me onto the BET slide show where they make their case.)

The two biggest reasons they give for not doing a Prince biopic is that biopics are generally not good and that Prince wasn't involved in the anti-hunger supergrouping of the 90's top US musical superstars, We Are the World. Althouse objected to the latter point as a good excuse for not portraying Prince's non-participation in that project, suggesting that exploring Prince's motives for saying no could be interesting.

I reacted over on Althouse's blog:
Movie biopics ARE generally, horrible though, as the BET slideshow points out.

Tonight, I watched the last half-hour of Jersey Boys. Horrible! (Of course, it might have helped if the Four Seasons' music, which I hated while growing up during the sixties, was good.)

But, in any case, the film industry has a way of butchering and pasteurizing their subjects, melding them into [indistinguishable] "musicaleverybodies." Didn't the Johnny Cash and Ray Charles biopics look like they were about the same person, that they led the exact same lives? Biopics have a way of disintegrating into kind of reality TV versions of 'Behind the Music,' every story the same.

When Hollywood went to work on telling George Gershwin's story (1945), almost none of it bore any resemblance to George Gershwin's story.

The same is true of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942), the biopic about George M. Cohan, which at least has the redeeming quality of being entertaining, spiced as it is by James Cagney's extraordinary, all-in dance stylings.

But there have been two more recent movie biopics that seem to have fairly hewn to the actual stories of their subjects' lives and careers.

The most creative of these is Kevin Spacey's 'Beyond the Sea' (2004). It's Spacey's telling of Bobby Darin's life story. There's little fiddling with the facts, though there are interesting flashbacks and flash forwards. You get a clear understanding of Darrin the man. Spacey, a terrific mimic, does a good job channeling his inner Darrin on the latter's catalog. A thoroughly enjoyable film.

Another successful recent music biopic is the 2014 release 'Ragamuffin,' focused on the life of Rich Mullins, an early practitioner of Christian contemporary music. Mullins' music was honest and so is this film. It shows the musician's quest to live a life of authentic Christian faith despite his rising fame. The music is great too. A film both enjoyable and deeply moving.

BET, I think, is wrong for suggesting that Prince's staying away from mass social activity renders him unfit for film treatment. His reasoning [as Althouse suggests] may warrant exploration. What were his reasons for doing big charitable events, while keeping his significant personal philanthropy quiet?

In fact, a similar shying away from association with big causes--in spite of appearances and reputation to the contrary and a few exceptions--will face any prospective producer of a Bob Dylan biopic. Dylan's 'Blowin' in the Wind' was an anthem for many in the 60's civil rights movement. But his connection to the movement or to the protests of the war in Vietnam were limited to non-existent. Dylan wasn't really a cause guy; he was more of a Dylan guy.
In the end, I think it's the music that matters most.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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