music biopic movie catchup weekend

August 30, 2021

For a lot of this year I’ve been doing that thing where I don’t want to watch new things, I want to watch old comfortable predictable things. But this weekend I blew through a bunch of stuff I’ve been meaning to watch for literally years. I’ve been avoiding them because I knew they would make me cry, and they did, but at least I can talk about them now.

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Okay, I know this isn’t a biopic. Well, it’s a fictional biopic. It’s still about music and musicians, anyway. Basically, this is a movie about how Gen X is hoping like hell that Gen Z saves our asses. This is a movie about how we very much believe they will.


Bohemian Rhapsody

Not totally satisfying. It’s quite disjointed, mostly made up of episodic vignettes about how Queen came up with their iconic songs, alongside Freddie Mercury’s trials and travails.  But the Live Aid recreation is just as phenomenal as everyone said it was. My favorite thing about that sequence is how much time the camera spends on the faces of the other band members, plainly showing their love for Freddie, but also their deep concern, and their wonder, which all contribute to this sense of something epic unfolding. I love ensembles, and this was a good scene for an ensemble.


Rocketman

The best of the bunch. It’s set up as an actual musical, which meant the film could be surreal as well as deeply emotional, and it felt like it had an arc. I adored how the background music riffed on “Yellow Brick Road” throughout, but when it came time to actually sing the lyrics, it was Bernie who sang the song, not Elton John.

Analysis

Both movies still kept to the rock star biopic formula:  extraordinary rock star plummets into drug and alcohol use and self loathing, alienating the people who really care about him while being manipulated by an evil mercenary lover, who must be repudiated before the star can reunite with his true self and friends. And/or he dies. (I’m so deeply glad I ended this series with Rocketman, where Elton is still alive and happy and successful. It’s ultimately an uplifting film, which these movies often aren’t.) What is it with rock stars and these stories that we’re so willing to watch over and over and over and over and over again? It’s some kind of twisted modern version of the Hero’s Journey. We love these movies because we love the people/characters they depict, but there’s a sameness to the story that I find frustrating.

Also: these two films are structured exactly the same.  Both films begin at the climactic moment. Just dipping in. Just a hint, a scene of the star marching to his destiny, full of his own aura. In Freddie’s case, to the Live Aid Concert, in Elton’s, to rehab. Then, the rewind. Going back to the start, so we can follow the path all the way out and then end up at the climactic moment in order, now with the context fully laid out.

This is so interesting to me. Different approaches in terms of presenting the content, but the structure is the same. I think Rocketman is more successful because it goes on to use rehab as a frame story in which to tell Elton’s history, which gives the movie a lot of cohesion.

Big Mood

Me spinning up Bohemian Rhapsody:  Ugh, I know I’m just going to sob my head off if they play “Somebody to Love.” (Film begins with that song) uuuuuuggghhhhhh.


Me spinning up Rocketman the following night:  Ugh, I know I’m just going sob my head off if they play “Yellow Brick Road.” (Film begins with instrumental riff of that song) GODDAMMIT

One Response to “music biopic movie catchup weekend”

  1. David Hack Says:

    As an end piece, Lust for Life, Kirk Douglas Van Gogh.
    Or if you can stomach it the Spoof Walk Hard the Dewey Cox story.


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