If I were king for a day, you know what I’d do? I’d halt production on every biopic currently in production. I’d do other things too probably, but this would be right at the top of my list. Honestly, are we really putting money into a film about Lance Armstrong?
If I go onto Youtube now and search for Lance Armstrong I’ll be able to find videos of his early career. I’ll be able to find interviews from when he was starting out. I’ll be able to find footage of his victories, news bulletins revealing his cancer diagnoses, inspirational speeches from him from after he beat the disease, more Tour de France wins, some more Livestrong speeches, maybe some early dissenting voices, that bit in Dodgeball, more dissenting voices, news bulletins about him being stripped of his titles, passionate defences, damning evidence to the contrary and finally Armstrong’s Oprah interview. Then what I could do is cut those youtube videos together, in that order, and voila – Bob’s your biopic. In fact, why wait for me to do it? Why not do it yourself. In fact! You’ve probably already done it! Seeing as Armstrong is so ubiquitous at the moment that anyone who’s not been living in a hole is certain to know his life story, have read some opinions on it, maybe formed their own opinion on him and moved on. So, that being the case, why on earth do we need a film dramatisation of events that have already been dramatised on film?
Biopics at their worst are the dullest movies imaginable. They take stories that everybody knows and present them in slightly higher definition with slightly prettier actors. Moreso than any other mindless big-budget shite, biopics ask nothing of the audience. They’re the cinematic equivalent of a Coldplay gig. Reality television has rendered the biopic completely redundant. At this point in time there are biopics in various stages of development about Paul Potts, Susan Boyle and Jade Goody. In each of these situations their story has already been told. It was told when they shot to fame on reality television programs and it has continued to be told via an array of glossy celebrity magazines. Armstrong’s story has already been told too, so unless there’s a shocking twist in the tale, then I think we can all be pretty certain of how any film portraying him is going to pan out.
It’s not that I’m opposed to all biopics. Bronson and American Splendor instantly spring to mind as being the pinnacle of the genre. The former takes an infamous, complicated character and explores not so much his life, but his psyche, in an incredibly brutal and stylized way. The latter plays with the character’s problems with representation and identity, towing the line between documentary and fiction. In both of these cases the directors used the lives of their subjects as inspiration. They didn’t just crib their Wikipedia entries into Final Draft and arrange a casting call.
A few years back James Cameron complained of Hollywood being in the midst of a story crisis (not that he’s really one to talk). If that’s true, then nothing exemplifies that more than the slew of biopics getting green-lit left, right and centre. It’s not so bad when the character’s are deceased, or mysterious, or have hidden secrets that may be worth exploring, but when films are being made about events that are still taking place, and taking place for the whole world to see at that, there’s absolutely nothing more pointless.