What do Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, the Vatican, the Federal Communications Commission, Kashi Go Lean and E Harmony all have in common? They cloud their own selfish money grabs in a cloak of selfless public works do gooding. Make no mistake. Steven Spielberg is making a biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not because he’s some racially sensitive saint with an unquenchable desire to inform the public about a great man, but because there’s millions to be laundered from the reverend’s legacy. Martin Scorsese is making a biopic about Frank Sinatra, not because he wants a new generation to understand the egocentric beauty in “My Way”, but because the Chairman has five dollars left in his cold, clenched fist.
I can get behind biopics when they’re bringing to attention the beautiful, sadly undertold stories of forgotten difference makers, but making movies about Abraham Lincoln, Jesus and George W. Bush amounts to nothing more than lazy, easy way out filmmaking for people too stupid and cheap to pay for the History Channel. I’ve listened to “Come Fly With Me”. I’ve watched the I Have A Dream Speech On YouTube. I don’t need some bastardized filmmaker’s fictionalized retelling of history to appreciate the greatness of Bobby Kennedy or the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team. Give the biopic a rest, goddamnit.
I know what you’re thinking. But with Oscar winning talent on board, won’t these larger than life movers and shakers be given the honor and respect they truly deserve? No and Yes. Or maybe Yes and No. One of those. Yes, both the Frank Sinatra and Martin Luther King Jr. biopics will undoubtedly be given every chance to succeed in terms of casting, budget, marketing, etc, but no, producing motion pictures about society’s heroes who have died in the last fifty years does not honor or respect anyone.
Remember Gandhi? He got his own biopic. The fucking thing won like ten Oscars too, but it couldn’t be less culturally relevant. It couldn’t be less important. Everyone saw that film once, agreed it had a sorta morose beauty about it, and quickly forgot the film was ever made. When was the last time you watched Gandhi? When was the last time anyone you knew watched Gandhi? When was the last time you heard of anyone learning any neat factoids or forming splendid in-depth realizations from Gandhi? It just came in, made everyone say “huh” and sauntered back out on the hunger march it rode in on.
And don’t give me that bullshit about how other people would have made the movie anyway. Yes, there will eventually be a biopic about everyone from Mark Cuban to Alexander Hamilton, but that’s no excuse to involve yourself in a project which doesn’t need to be made. No doubt McG or Paul W. S. Anderson would have made a far shittier homage to Frank Sinatra or MLK, but so what? That still doesn’t change the fact two of Hollywood’s brightest filmmakers are wasting their time with stories we already know. But then again, why shouldn’t it be that way? As an audience, it’s our fault. The biopic is like a cleverly rephrased remake, and God, do we love remakes.
I’m against obvious, well-known biopics for the same reason I’m against redundancy, bombast and using a comma followed by synonyms to add emphasis, force and accentuation. The musing “there should be a movie made about Elian Gonzalez” is not a reason to make a movie about Elian Gonzalez--even if it’s directed by Frank Capra and stars a really tan Shia LaBeouf.