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14th October 2013

Biopics: the curse of cinema?

Ally discusses why film should turn from fact to fiction

Casually perusing Imdb a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a new film starring James Corden. One Chance tells the story of young Paul Potts (Britain’s Got Talent series 1 winner) and his struggle to follow his dreams as an opera singer in an existence which seems fiercely antagonistic. Downtrodden and defeated, Potts eventually rises up to quash the bullies by entering and (sorry, spoilers) winning Britain’s Got Talent and becoming a superstar.

Not that I have anything against Paul Potts; I think he is a very talented singer. Rather it’s the fact that mainstream cinema is now resorting to the biopic of a previous Britain’s Got Talent contestant (and casting a number of well-known actors) which astounds me. Created by Syco Television, the makers of the X Factor, One Chance stands out as a form of Simon Cowell advertisement with very little substance. The trailer follows the structure of the reality TV it is based on, clichéd and over-dramatised, depicting Potts’ Cinderella-story which, if you watch Britain’s Got Talent or not, you know ends happily ever after.

Of course, this is a norm for mainstream blockbusters. With their epic music scores and careful editing, big-time filmmakers make sure that our emotions and opinions are constructed for us whilst we innocently watch the movie before us. Film especially manipulates our minds through biopics. Focused on a famous and/or historical figure, the audience’s emotions are forced to either empathise with or oppose the central constructed character based on the film’s interpretation of them. Paul Potts transforms from the underdog to a hero within an hour and a half. Something tells me he will be releasing an album in the coming weeks. However, the question remains, why do so many film makers feel the need to inflict their opinion of a person upon worldwide audiences?

Within the last year a vast number of biopics have been made. Jobs (Steve Jobs), Behind the Candelabra (Liberace), The Butler (the White House butler, Cecil Gaines) and Kill Your Darlings (Allen Ginsberg) barely scratch the surface, and currently in cinemas are Diana, Rush and The Fifth Estate. What is the need for so many biopics? Is Hollywood running out of ideas? Only this summer Lovelace was released, a film about a porn star. I’m not disputing she probably had an interesting life, but where is it that we now draw the line? Are we to commend her for her sexual exploits and selling her body? What does someone have to achieve to have a film made about them?

The increasingly technological world is expanding our previous knowledge of people, especially people in the spotlight. Just by Google searching we can learn about a vast number of even vaguely famous people from any era. With this immense scope, film makers can choose anyone with an inspiring life and document it effectively to interest the audience. We must remember that film making is story telling. There is a narrative. There is even narrative within documentaries as we are expected to respond to the constructed image created. Just because a film is about a real person, the actor is not that person. Biopics are an interpretation and therefore can be controversial; The Iron Lady famously sparked debate due to Margaret Thatcher’s modern-day depiction. Are biopics therefore just a money-maker? Does the life story of a famous person pull us in? One Chance certainly fits this description (I’ve written a whole article about it). I just feel sorry for Paul Potts. Let’s hope they don’t make a biopic about Simon Cowell next.

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