Written by: Matt Sloan
There always seems to be space for musical films in Hollywood.
Lately, in particular, it’s been biopics and other movies about specific musicians. Bohemian Rhapsody, a flawed but fun drama about Queen, just won actor Rami Malek an Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury. “Rocketman” will come out this year as the biggest and most ambitious film made about Elton John’s rise to stardom. Even the Michael Jackson documentary recently put out by HBO – devastating as it may be for Jackson’s reputation – is evidence of people’s constant interest in legendary musical figures.
Undoubtedly, there will be more to come. But this recent slew of films involving such major stars will have a lot of music lovers impatient to see more sooner rather than later. So we did some thinking about the musicians who really need major Hollywood biopics.
There is actually a very fun-looking Beatles movie coming out this year. It’s called Yesterday and its recently released trailer more or less went viral, prompting one culture writer to call it the Beatles movie of her dreams. This film, however, is a sort of fantasy about a modern singer/songwriter reviving the Beatles’ music in a world in which they’re mysteriously – and utterly – forgotten. In a way, Yesterday looks as if it will serve one of the main purposes of an artist biopic movie, which is that it will play Beatles music loudly on a big screen. However, the world could also use a legitimate John Lennon biopic. He’s one of the most important musicians of all time, and he and the Beatles have never really been satisfyingly captured in this format.
Bob Dylan doesn’t quite have the mass appeal of the Beatles or John Lennon, but he’s considered to be about as much of a genius as any songwriter who’s ever held a pen. In a way, this almost makes him better suited for a biopic than most of his counterparts in a discussion like this. Dylan is unquestionably brilliant, yet requires some getting used to; he’s well-known, but a little bit more mysterious than a Lennon or Elton John. With the right actor and a script that held true to the facts of his life and early stardom, Dylan could be brought to life in a whole new way for both hardcore fans and people who might respect his name but be more ignorant of his life and music. Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There was a fabulous take on Dylan’s life, but a sustained film with one actor in the role could be very interesting, indeed.
Jimi Hendrix is about as present as an artist from the past can be. Previously unreleased material came out not too long ago, and the hits seem to be on at least one film soundtrack every year. Hendrix was also re-introduced to millions a few years ago when his likeness and music was used to construct a casino arcade game online. Sites with these games promote quality game selection to attract players, and thus delve into all kinds of topics for game inspiration – including popular rock stars. These are just a few things, but they do hint at the hold Hendrix still has over people who even vaguely enjoy his style of music. There’s a massive audience, in other words, for a full-fledged biopic that would not only bring the artist back to life for so many people who never got to see him, but also blast his unrivaled tunes from cinemas around the world. The 2013 film Jimi: All Is By My Side was terrific, but the film was said to take too many liberties and wasn’t approved of by Hendrix’s estate, which meant there was no Hendrix-written music in the film…
Billy Joel is still touring and giving regular shows at Madison Square Garden, so in a way it might almost be too soon for his biopic. He’s also got the Movin’ Out musical going for him, which isn’t strictly autobiographical, but does to some extent function as material about Joel’s life and involving his music. Still, he feels like a perfect candidate for this kind of movie simply because he has more hits than most people seem to realize until they think about it, millions of people know the words to those hits, and it would be a blast to hear them blaring off a big screen. Billy Joel’s life and rise to stardom may not have had the same complexities as a Freddie Mercury, and he may not be thought of as such a one-of-a-kind genius as Dylan or Lennon, but he would make for an outrageously fun film.
For those who were fans of his music, Prince’s relatively recent passing is still somewhat shocking to think about. We simply don’t have too many talents or influencers of his caliber to lose, so when one does pass it’s a big loss not just to fans but to culture and humanity at large. There have been endless tributes since Prince passed, not to mention the deluxe reissue of Purple Rain SEM wrote about when it was released. But in due time, perhaps when a few more years have gone by, a biopic accurately celebrating his memory would be a treat for countless people.