Biographical film

A biographical motion picture — often shortened to biopic — is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or people. They differ from films “based on a true story” or “historical films” in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a person’s life story or at least the most historically important years of their lives.

Because the figures portrayed are actual people, whose actions and characteristics are known, biopics are considered some of the most demanding films of actors and actresses. Will Smith and Jim Carrey both gained respect as dramatic actors after starring in biopics, Smith as Muhammad Ali in "Ali" and Carrey as Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon".

Traditionally biographical films focus on beloved, historically important people. However, recently some have focused on more dubious figures ("The People vs. Larry Flynt, "Blow", Monster", "Control" etc.)

In rare cases, the subject of the film plays him or herself; Jackie Robinson in "The Jackie Robinson Story"; Muhammad Ali in "The Greatest", Audie Murphy in "To Hell and Back," Patty Duke in "Call Me Anna", and Howard Stern in "Private Parts."


Since the 1980s, biographical pictures have become increasingly popular as advancement in film technology and increases in film budgeting have allowed directors to more fully recreate historic periods. In the early 2000s, there was a flood of biographical pictures after "Man on the Moon, Ali, Frida" and others became widely acclaimed and awarded. In an essay on biographical films, Rana Dasgupta has seen this recent profusion as "a symptom of a grand contemporary reconfiguration of the idea of creativity and its relationship to social order." [ [ "The next idea of the artist", essay by Rana Dasgupta on biographical films] ]

Controversies over veracity

A certain amount of veracity is expected of biopics, often to reduce the risk of libel, but the films often alter events to suit the storyline. Events are sometimes portrayed more dramatically than they actually occurred, time is "condensed" to fit all important events into the film or several people are blended into a composite.

Although many viewers and critics forgive such fabrications for entertainment value, some biopics have come under criticism for allegations of deception. Historians noted the wayward chronology of "Michael Collins," a team of Greek lawyers threatened to sue the makers of "Alexander" for implying that Alexander the Great was bisexual and many boxing fans resented the villainous portrayal of Max Baer in "Cinderella Man." But a more controversial biopic in terms of accuracy is 1999's "The Hurricane," about boxer Rubin Carter and his hotly-disputed triple murder conviction. Several details were altered to enhance the image of Carter and details about the police procedures that lead to the conviction conflicted with court records. Also, former middle weight champion Joey Giardello, who won a title bout against Carter, sued the film's producers for suggesting he won due to a racist "fix". The case was settled out of court.

Roger Ebert defended the "The Hurricane" and distortions in biographical films in general, stating "those who seek the truth about a man from the film of his life might as well seek it from his loving grandmother. ... "The Hurricane" is not a documentary but a parable." [rogerebert|id=20000107/REVIEWS/1070302|title=The Hurricane]

Some biopics purposely stretch the truth. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" was based on game show host Chuck Barris' widely debunked, yet still popular, memoir of the same name, in which he claimed to be a CIA agent, and "Kafka" incorporated both the life of author Franz Kafka and the surreal aspects of his fiction.

Casting can be controversial for biographical films. Some felt that Anthony Hopkins should not have played Richard Nixon in "Nixon" because of a lack of resemblance between the two. Also, some Selena fans objected to the casting of Jennifer Lopez in a biopic about her because Lopez is Puerto Rican and Selena was Mexican-American.


ee also

*Biographical novel
*List of biographical films

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