Our Favourite Music Biopics

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For all the box office takings garnered by comic-book films, or films with giant robots, audiences still love to see the real-life stories of people in the public eye on the big screen. From The Social Network to Malcolm X, The Elephant Man to Downfall, there have been many biopics over the years that have had success both commercially and critically.  But it’s not just socially awkward billionaires and political leaders that make great subjects: there are plenty of entertaining biopics centred around musicians too.  Music biopics are hugely appealing to audiences, giving them the chance to see ‘behind-the-scenes’ and see the private moments that shaped their heroes.

With the release of Get On Up, a James Brown biopic, last weekend, we decided to look back at five of the best music biopics from recent years.

Ray

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Released in 2004, Ray tells the fascinating life story of rhythm and blues legend, Ray Charles.  Starting life tragically in Georgia, we see Ray witness the death of his little brother, and have an accident that leaves him blind, all before the age of ten.  Lead by an extremely independent mother, Ray learns that he has to make his own way in the world, discovers his musical talents, and goes on to have a long and successful career.  Although it sounds like a true rags-to-riches tail, Ray explores the warts and all life of Charles, exploring the effect his brother’s death had on him, drug addiction, and extra-marital affairs.

Jamie Foxx won a whole host of awards for his portrayal of Charles, including the Best Actor Academy Award.  The acclaim was fully deserved, as Foxx manages to capture a near pitch-perfect portrait of the singer.

La Vie en Rose
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Telling the tragic story of singer Edith Piaf, French-language film La Vie En Rose was released in 2007.  Piaf, most well-known for songs “La Vie en rose”, and “Non, je ne regrette rien”, was abandoned by first her mother, then her father, who left her to be raised in a brothel with his grandmother, was temporarily deaf and blind in childhood due to illness, and had endured the heartache of losing a child, a lover, and many friends.  Told through the amazing performance by Marion Cotillard, the story is non-linear, and presented to the audience as if Piaf is recalling her memories, both the good times and the bad.

Marion Cotillard, who also won an Academy Award for her portrayal, not only visually resembles Piaf, she manages to capture her mannerisms and gestures, especially when performing.

I’m Not There

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Also released in 2007, I’m Not There uses unconventional methods to explore different periods of folk singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan’s life.  Unlike any of the other films on the list, I’m Not There has more than one actor playing the main character, including a woman, and a black child.  An effective method, each actor represents a different stage in his life, making this less like a straight-forward biopic, focussing on the whole life story,  and more abstract, instead looking in-depth at the moments that  make the man.

Starring Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, and Cate Blanchett (who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance), I’m Not There is a must-see for fan’s of Bob Dylan.

Walk The Line

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Telling the tale of legendary performer, Johnny Cash, Walk The Line (released in 2005) follows the familiar story of many music biopics, with the artist starting out in humble beginnings, facing adversity, and finally making it successful, only to realise fame and success doesn’t make everything better, and the inevitable downfall after that.  Perhaps this type of tale is popular because it is not only true, the film was based on Cash’s own autobiographies, but allows the audience to relate to a flawed hero, someone who they previously thought was untouchable.  Walk The Line takes us through the ups and downs of Cash’s early years, and his relationship with country singer June Carter, played by Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon picked up an Academy Award for her role, but it was Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash that really stole the show, matching the ‘Man in Black’s’ swagger and style.

Control

Control

The third film on our list to be released in 2007, Control explores the life of Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis.  Portraying the events of Curtis’s life between 1973, and the singer’s suicide in 1980, Control tells the story of a troubled man, lead-singer in a punk band, but struggling with epilepsy and the effects on his marriage of an extra-marital affair.  Based on a memoir by his wife Deborah, and beautifully directed by Anton Corbijn, who photographed Curtis during his career, Control is a deeply personal tale, painting a vivid portrait of a tormented man.

Achieving critical acclaim in England and the rest of Europe, with particular praise for newcomer Sam Riley as Curtis, Control is a fantastic example of how a music biopic doesn’t have to be a romanticised version of an artist in order to tell their story.

Get On Up was released in UK cinemas on 21st November, and you can read our review here.