Why Do So Many Music Biopics Suck?

“How do you solve a problem like Twilight?” Julie Andrews never said. But in his downtime from frowning, I bet Robert Pattinson probably has.

For all the fame, fortune, and I think it’s safe to say, his fair share of odd fan mail, playing an infernally broody vampire in a beloved teen drama isn’t great for swerving being typecast later down the line. It’s a problem Reg from The Bill endured, sorta, but not really at all.

Recently it appears Pattinson has decided the solution lies in rock biopics. Last year he was circling the role of Kurt Cobain in a proposed Nirvana biopic. Last week it was strongly rumoured he was “obsessed” with the idea of playing the late, personally I’m undecided about great, Jeff Buckley.


You can’t blame him for trying. His Twilight co-star – and, depending on what celebrity magazines you consume, girlfriend – Kristen Stewart went some way towards having a career beyond looking worried in pine forests by appearing as Joan Jett in last year’s disappointing The Runaways.

She even got a lesbian kiss. Nothing screams, “I’M AN ACTOR WILLING TO TAKE RISKS” like a lesbian clinch. Perhaps that’s where Reg is going wrong…

Yet as desperate as Robert is to appear in one, the number of rock biopics I actually like can be counted on one slightly mutated hand.

I like Oliver Stone’s take on The Doors, but mainly because he dispensed with the facts and just made loads of mad shit up. I like Backbeat, but mainly because it portrayed the Beatles as some sort of Anglophile grunge band (perhaps due to the soundtrack being recorded by Greg Dulli, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl).

I like Walk The Line, Control (but maybe less than 24 Hour Party People), and at least 67% of the very strange Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There. But I think rock biopics in general suffer from one principal failure: people in rock bands are essentially the most boring people walking the planet.


That’s not completely fair. There’s a great Bowie movie begging to be made. I think there’s a good Michael Jackson movie if given the right treatment and talent. There’s enough life in one hour of Keith Moon’s existence to fill a movie the length of Das Boot (and given The Who drummer’s desire to shock, perhaps they could use the same wardrobe).

But most rock bands’ lives consist of this: wake up, eat a Ginsters pasty, play some Playstation, eat another Ginsters pasty, grunt monosyllabically through an interview with a journalist, play a gig, have some unfulfilling sex with someone they don’t know, cry, go to sleep. Part of me would like to see what Aronofsky would do with that, but not a big part, in truth.

Music biopics suffer from a great dichotomy too. On one hand the best stories to be told are by artists who barely register on the mainstream’s radar – The Associates’ Billy Mackenzie, Daniel Johnson, the drummer in Yo La Tengo. On the other it’s hard to pitch those stories to studios without the promise of a mainstream audience to sell them to.

It’d take Robert De Niro to pipe up and admit, “yeah, I’m a fan of Guided By Voices” to get that film made. Which leads me on to music biopics’ other principal failing…

Great rock stars are often extremely nuanced people. Sure, this isn’t a trait limited to those who can play barre chords – if Benicio del Toro can ably portray Che Guevara over a number of films then I’d hazard a guess he could have a crack at that guy from White Lies.

But music fans are so, y’know, fannish, that if you don’t get it right – if Kurt Cobain becomes right-handed say, or you get Elliott Smith’s middle name wrong – then your movie is going to clunk with its audience.

Many said David Fincher pitched the Mark Zuckerberg character all wrong in The Social Network – Zuckerberg isn’t short of an online identity, but he doesn’t have half a million people itching to start a hate campaign against your film like you would if you got the colour of Bowie’s weird eye wrong.

Then there’s the music itself, some of which I like a lot (Andy Serkis slipped inside Ian Dury’s skin by actually singing the Blockheads catalogue – and playing saxophone – on the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll soundtrack).

Most of which I loathe with every ounce of bile my body can produce; Michael Pitt strumming an acoustic guitar as Kurt Cobain in Last Days had all the finesse of two potatoes making love. Even the best actors struggle to fudge a skill like musicianship.

Speaking of Kurt, it begs the question: will Robert Pattinson ever get the biopic role he craves? Well, if your favourite rock star drops dead any time soon, perhaps keep your eyes peeled for some well defined eyebrows fleeing the scene of the crime.

A rumour I just made up has it that Robert is currently auditioning for a Ramones biopic as all of the dead dudes, making sure he stands no chance of missing out this time. It’ll be just his luck he’s cast as Tommy.

I’ll leave you with a thought before you leave me with your favourite biopics and the like. My favourite rock biopic is perhaps one of the strangest ever made – you can watch it in the link above – Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which forsakes real actors for the use of Barbie figures, many of which spend their scenes doing some very adult things.

‘Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft’? No, just the customer services of Toys R Us…