Biographical films or “biopics” grace the theatre multiple times in a year. They can be raving successes, such as The Social Network (2010), or complete duds, like Hitchcock (2012), based on their production quality and audience appeal. Devotees of a specific person or event will gnash their teeth as historical inaccuracies flit across the screen and create an untrue or imaginative portrayal. I’ll be honest… when there were rumours of Anne Hathaway portraying Judy Garland in a biopic about her life, I was devastated. I like her, but she’s no Judy Garland. I asked myself again and again, “How could they use Hathaway’s singing voice when the biggest appeal of Garland is her unrivaled vocal talent? Will people become obsessed with the songs Hathaway sang, but not the original versions?!” I pictured a swarm of faux Garlandians claiming to know about her life after seeing this film and I seethed with anger. Luckily, this never came to fruition.
Then, of course, I became a hypocrite as I watched biopics about people I know little to nothing about and walk away with popcorn breath and a sense of fulfillment.. meanwhile Margaret Thatcher’s biggest fan is ready to smash the film projector after viewing The Iron Lady (2012). Biopics are a tricky thing when it comes to fandom, but people’s lives make such entertaining stories. I must eventually reminded myself… it’s Hollywood. They’re not about accuracy, they’re about entertainment (and the box office). To illustrate my point, here’s Oscar Levant, Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan with “That’s Entertainment”:
“The world is a stage, the stage is a world of entertainment” sums it up. Even though they are referring to the theatre, the same can be applied to film. Audiences love entertaining stories because “hip hooray!” it’s “the American way!” (said with a tinge of sarcasm). Biographical films should be viewed in a similar fashion, even though I still struggle with the historically accurate portion of narratives. The moral of the story is… don’t go to the movies to get a history lesson, you will fail your history exam.
Tomorrow on Panhandle PBS, “On Story” will be focusing on films that tell “true” stories. To preface the show, I will be blogging about my favourite biopic, The King’s Speech (2010). In the meantime, I’m curious, do you have a favourite? Or have you ever been so frustrated with the re-telling of history that you wanted to rip your hair out?