WE'RE BETTER THAN BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Oh, hey what’s that you’ve got there? Is that a Queen biopic? That sure does look tasty. Now careful, I know it looks indestructible, but you don’t want anything going wrong with that.
Whoa! *Queen biopic falls out of your hands* I knew this would happen.
Oh, and now it’s all covered in Bryan Singer. That sure is toxic, you don’t want to go anywhere near that. What else is caught in there? Are those gummy teeth? What purpose do they serve in a Queen meal?
Now you aren’t going to just dust that off and wolf it down, are you? What you’ve got there is a sub-par Bohemian Rhapsody at best. I get it, you’re no doubt saying to yourself “but where else am I going to get my musical biopic fix?”
Never fear, I hear you. So, I’ve decided to up my own delicatessen to showcase the finest cuts of music bios this side of Chelmsford.
Check out the selection below, I can guarantee it’s better than what Singer has left behind on your Queen movie.
If I pitched, you a film about the lead singer of an English rock and roll band shot in black and white how would you feel? What may sound a little pretentious on the surface, Control is anything but. Instead Anton Corbijn creates a perceptive and gentle piece on the life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of 70’s rock band Joy Division. This is a story that lacks the glitz of other more conventional biopics instead milling about in the gritty Macclesfield streets. The best biopics expose us to what our characters were like behind closed doors. They give us an opportunity to understand what motivates and them and in some cases, what fuels their genius.
Control is interested in Curtis’s loss of control, both the physical control in the epilepsy he suffers from and the desire to lose control by escaping from his marriage and into his music. Fantastic scenes of Joy Division live performances, which often include frenetic, wild hand movements from Curtis, are cut together with pedestrian vignettes of our ‘rock star’ working a day job in an employment centre. Anchored by a fantastic performance from Sam Riley as Curtis, Control neatly de-mystifies the man behind the mic ultimately making the story far more tragic.
LOVE & MERCY
Love and Mercy is a unique telling of an artist’s story. Intertwining two different periods of the Beach Boys creator Brian Wilson’s life Love and Mercy plays with what is fact and fiction for a figure who suffered many personal demons. The first period follows the height of the Beach Boys creative success while the second shows Wilson as a fractured genius in the 80’s dealing with a therapist who sinisterly serves as his guru, dietitian and legal guardian.
Two distinct periods played wonderfully by Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively, the film plays with each tale to juxtapose what seem like diametric storylines together with ease. By the end Love Mercy creates two satisfying stories that not only stand-up successfully in isolation but as a collaboration provide a complex nuanced portrait.
What makes this film so fascinating is how long we stay in the creative space. During one half we are able to watch as Wilson directs members of his recording studio to collectively create “Pet Sounds” an all-time great of its era. The camera lingers as we get to lovingly watch a genius at work. On the flip side we watch a tense thriller as Wilson attempt to escape the clutches of a bonafide creep with a friendly facade (Paul Giamatti). Much like the artist’s real work Love & Mercy’s storylines shouldn’t fit together but what we are left with is a weirdly beautiful piece of art.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Though not strictly a biopic Inside Llewyn Davis takes inspiration from folk artist Dave van Ronk who dominated the New York folk scene right before it really took off. Arguably the Coen Brothers greatest work we are presented with a story that goes everywhere but nowhere within the music world. Oscar Isaac excellently plays Llewyn Davis, a folk singer trying to transition into life as a solo artist after a recent tragedy befalls his musical partner.
This is a textbook tragi-comedy with Davis’s character unfortunately caught at a crossroads of folk music; his career falling just before the success of folk artists such as Bob Dylan and as such he finds himself relegated to live performances in New York skive bars. Davis’s journey culminates in mistake after mistake going from couch surfing in with friends and fans to hitchhiking all the way out to Chicago; all in the name of searching for fame.
While Davis is at best prickly and at worst unlikeable, the Coen’s do a fantastic job in getting us to root for Llewyn’s potential success. Various performances, in particular “The Death of Queen Jane” show us the genuine talent and soul Llewyn possesses. Yet as usual the Coen’s are not concerned with success. That makes this picture wholly unique from other music movies, we aren’t watching a star put on a pedestal rather the journey of a man who is failing through his own machinations.
(I’ll also take this opportunity to recommend the Oscar Nominated musical performance of Willie Watson & Tim Blake Nelson ‘When a Cowboy Trades his Spurs for Wings’ in the Coen’s latest project The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
SONG TO SONG
People may be sick of Malick but he’s just working on a different track. He’s in the fast lane baby. Just go along for the ride. Switch you brain off with Gosling, Fassbender, and Portman. Plot who needs it.
He’s Painting with Big™ Broad™ brush strokes. Give it a chance.
Wait a second how did this one get in here? Looks like my brother has infiltrated my delicatessen to sell you on a Terry Malick flick.
(Have to maintain the metaphor in some way. You know that relatable scenario when you’re the owner of a sandwich shop and you brother while your back is turned starts selling your customers something you don’t have on the menu, so then you end up just leaving the sandwich in the store because it might be more work to take off the menu. That’s this situation.)
24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE
Dealing with the same time and characters as Control, 24 Hour Party People takes the same era in British music in a wholly different direction. Told from the perspective of record producer Tony Wilson director Michael Winterbottom rolls through the late 70’s to early 90’s Manchester music scene at a break neck pace. Overall this film is unconventional, self-referential, brave and easily a romp.
With a smorgasbord of English actors including lead star Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Shirley Henderson and Simon Pegg (to name a few), this film doesn’t take itself seriously and is all the better for it. We spend our time predominantly with Coogan’s Wilson as he signs acts like Joy Division, later New Order and the Happy Mondays. Dealing with the crazy anarchy and shaggy dog stories of starting a new record label after watching a sex pistols performance.
Where Control focused on the relationship of one character to his music and the loved ones around him; 24H Party People deals with the more common sex drugs and rock & roll of music in that time. It makes for a perfect companion piece in that despite dealing with similar characters and times, stylistically they are polar opposites.
Yet like the films listed above it loves its subjects. It documents a time when the madmen ran the asylum, musicians could do anything, be anyone. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in capturing the atmosphere of the industry something that hasn’t been in emulated since.
So, all I can say is I hope you found something you can sink your teeth into. In words of all famous deli owners ‘Get out of my store unless you want to buy something’.