Most of us look at movies as a form of entertainment, as a conduit for escapism. While this is entirely reasonable, there is also something to be said for the acknowledgement of movies as a more significant art form, especially when examining the historical biopic genre. This week, Lincoln arrives in theaters (admittedly not a great place for him to be, considering) — and this new Steven Spielberg film chronicles the political wheeling and dealing of one of America’s greatest presidents. Biopics are nothing new to cinema. In 1937, Paul Muni was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of real-life French writer in The Life of Emile Zola. But is there a more weighted significance to biopics for this generation? And do we place an appropriate amount of stock in them?
Unless you’ve been residing in a cave up until now — and by the way, thanks for making the reading of this article your first priority upon returning to civilization! — you’re well aware of the technological advances that have made the viewing of films as effortless a process as flipping a switch. As much as these streaming and viewing technologies have aided the already ravenous consumption of movies, it would be ignorant to assume that they have also obliterated book culture. In fact, downloadable books and electronic reading devices have done for the printed word what Netflix has done for film watching. However, it’s not outlandish to note the scales of public interest are decidedly tipped in favor of film.
The question is, with our propensity toward regular reading diminishing, and our movie viewing increasing, when do we reach critical mass? When do we get to the point wherein biographical films become our chief source of information about the lives of historical individuals? More to the point, have we already reached that point? Lincoln may seem an odd catalyst for this discussion, given that most of us learned about the 16th president in elementary school. However, what we may or may not have learned in school, or more importantly what we may not have recalled as easily as his log cabin and freeing of the slaves, is the complexity of his parlor politics and how those maneuvers lead to the passing of the vital 13th Amendment to The Constitution. The film therefore offered many of us a new story, a new facet to this historical figure.
Think back to the third grade, what was the best thing your teacher could possibly have said on any given day? “Class, we’re going to watch a movie.” It didn’t even matter if that movie was the worst After School Special or the moldiest of educational videos, we were thankful for the diversion from the chore of sifting through, and often reading aloud in groups, those dry text books. While this may be symptomatic of the capriciousness of youth, it may also be a function of the benefits of visual learning techniques. Many people retain information they perceive visually far better than information read from a book. We can usually remember details of those videos we watched in class far more readily than the things written in the textbooks. It can therefore be argued that biopics provide a viable alternative to literary biographies.
This viability of course comes under fire when considering the possible presence of embellishment and bias in biopics. Films, even those with the slight education bent of a historical biopic, are principally intended to entertain, and are also susceptible to the prejudices and viewpoints of the filmmakers. With that in mind, can biopics really be trusted as a means of educating the masses on these figures, especially when telling a life story not as engrained into the collective consciousness? And if all we need is a visual delivery system for biographical information, what sets biopics apart from documentaries?
The fact of the matter is that depending on the source, written biographies can be just as biased as any given film. This potential for subjectivity is augmented in the case of controversial personages, and especially politicians. Not only that, but there are documentaries out there predicated upon little more than sensationalizing a particular figure’s life regardless of factual evidence contradicting their claims. Case in point, check out the doc Alive: Is Michael Jackson Really Dead now streaming on Netflix. The movie actually supposes, using the most laughable of non-evidence, that The King of Pop staged his own death. The intention here is not to paint all documentaries and written biographies with the same unscrupulous brush, but the existence of these suspect examples should prevent an automatic assignment of inferior status to filmic biographies.
One entity that certainly doesn’t overlook the significance of biographical filmmaking is the Academy Awards. One need only go to the Netflix Instant Watch genre category Biographical Dramas to see the near unending acclaim lavished upon movies of this ilk. Films like Amadeus, Gandhi, and Chariots of Fire all garnered Best Picture honors while Capote, The Pianist, and My Left Foot all netted performance awards for its leads as they occupied roles based on historical figures. Whether the cause for this Oscar success is the Academy’s acknowledgement of the importance of these films, or simply the attraction they inherently present for top-tier filmmakers, the winning streak enjoyed by biopics ensures their continued frequency of production.
There may be something to the conception of biopics as an artful method of historic preservation. In that regard, the entertainment value of these films may not be a superfluous. Did British criminal Charles Bronson really get up in front of a theater full of people and perform a one-man show? No. But Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Bronson, with its distinct visuals and stellar performance from Tom Hardy, allows for an easier commitment to memory of the actual details of the man’s life that are also featured in the film. As biopics continue to draw both audiences and awards season attention, and as Oscar winners tend to be more likely to receive the benefit of film preservation advancements, what we may also be inadvertently preserving is our collective history.
[Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures]
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While the disputes between channels like AMC and cable providers like Dish Network can be droning, boring, and downright bothersome, they can also be a veritable playground of creativity and hilarious, gutsy jabs. As we've seen DirecTV squabble with Viacom, and DirecTV squabble with the CW (man, they squabble a lot), it all starts to feel a little hopeless. Now, Dish Network and AMC are still mired in a stalemate, leaving Dish subscribers without the channel where Story Matters, but hey, at least AMC's got jokes.
The network responsible for Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, is calling on cable customers (and presumably AMC fans) to create their own videos to dispute the, er, dispute. Participants submit video reactions depicting what they would react if their cable provider suddenly dropped AMC, and if minor internet fame wasn't enough, they're also offering up a cash prize for the winner. Lord only knows what ridiculousness will come out of this prompt, considering the fact that AMC's latest protest video came in the form of a zombie apocalypse taking over Manhattan with the tagline "Zombies don't belong here/ Put them back on TV."
And while this whole thing is probably giving you a headache, consider this: every time cable networks and cable providers fight, these days, something awesome and hilarious comes our way.
1. AMC vs. Dish: Zombie Experiment in New York
No Walking Dead for Dish Network, you say? Well, how about we unleash a legion of them on the unsuspecting (and usually relatively unmoved by strange instances) New Yorkers. Yeah, that'll learn 'em. 2. AMC vs. Dish: Oh Dear God, It's Walter White And when flesh-eating zombies don't work, just send in Walter White (Bryan Cranston), king of the most realistic terror-filled universe you've ever known on television. AMC offered the Breaking Bad premiere online — something the network rarely does with full episodes — to Dish subscribers who've been left out. They advertised it using this haunting image. (Okay, well the Breaking Bad promotion came earlier, but White's still far more menacing.) 3. Viacom vs. DirecTV: Don't Let Cartman Get a Satellite Stuck Up His A** There's nothing like using a classic joke and DirecTV's own advertising campaign against them to hilarious perfection. Who knew Cartman's age old satellite probe joke would prove so incredibly apt for this crass, surprising, hilarious ad? 4. CBS vs. ABC: Now Presenting CBS' 'Dancing On the Stars' followed by 'Postmodern Family' Alright, so this wasn't cable network versus cable provider, but the tongue-in-cheek kick in the pants sure is along the same lines. CBS released an actual press release announcing its fake lineup of new series, all direct, hilariously sarcastic rip-offs of ABC series during the networks' dispute over Glass House and its supposed trade secret infringement on CBS' standby Big Brother. Eventually, Glass House did air, but this press release probably left a bigger impact (see: major increases in office giggling) than the "copycat" show. CBS ANNOUNCES DEVELOPMENT OF “DANCING ON THE STARS,” AN EXCITING AND COMPLETELY ORIGINAL REALITY PROGRAM THAT OWES ITS CONCEPT AND EXECUTION TO NOBODY AT ALL Los Angeles, June 20, 2012 – Subsequent to recent developments in the creative and legal community, CBS Television today felt it was appropriate to reveal the upcoming launch of an exciting, groundbreaking and completely original new reality program for the CBS Television Network. The dazzling new show, DANCING ON THE STARS, will be broadcast live from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and will feature moderately famous and sort of well-known people you almost recognize competing for big prizes by dancing on the graves of some of Hollywood’s most iconic and well-beloved stars of stage and screen. The cemetery, the first in Hollywood, was founded in 1899 and now houses the remains of Andrew “Fatty” Arbuckle, producer Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Paul Muni, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, George Harrison of the Beatles and Dee Dee Ramone of the Ramones, among many other great stars of stage, screen and the music business. The company noted that permission to broadcast from the location is pending, and that if efforts in that regard are unsuccessful, approaches will be made to Westwood Village Memorial Park, where equally scintillating luminaries are interred. “This very creative enterprise will bring a new sense of energy and fun that’s totally unlike anything anywhere else, honest,” said a CBS spokesperson, who also revealed that the Company has been working with a secret team for several months on the creation of the series, which was completely developed by the people at CBS independent of any other programming on the air. “Given the current creative and legal environment in the reality programming business, we’re sure nobody will have any problem with this title or our upcoming half-hour comedy for primetime, POSTMODERN FAMILY.” “After all,” the spokesperson added, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Are you enjoying the hilarious outcomes of all this feuding? Or are you tired of the nonsense? More: Season 5 Premiere of 'Breaking Bad' To Stream Online for Dish Subscribers DirecTV Drops Viacom Stations: Comedy Central, MTV, and More 'Breaking Bad' Recap: Fifty One
Reports emerged last week (ends25Sep11) that the crime drama is set to be remade for a new generation of movie fans. The 1983 film, which starred Al Pacino as Cuban gangster Tony Montana, was itself an adaptation of Howard Hawks' 1932 picture of the same name, starring Paul Muni as an Italian who takes over the city of Chicago, Illinois.
But Loggia, who played drug lord Frank Lopez in the 1980s adaptation, wants executives at Universal Pictures to scrap their plans for an updated version of Scarface, with a new lead character and location.
He tells TMZ.com, "Scarface is a classic that should rest in peace!"
The popular 1983 crime drama, which starred Pacino as Cuban gangster Tony Montana, was a remake of Howard Hawks' 1932 film starring Paul Muni as an Italian who takes over the city of Chicago, Illinois.
Now movie bosses are planning to revive the format for a third time, according to Deadline.com.
The website reports executives at Universal Pictures are planning a new version of Scarface with producer Martin Bregman, who worked on the Pacino film, with a new character and setting.
October 01, 2004 7:53am EST
Martha Stewart heads to "Camp Cupcake"
If she has to serve time, she might as well do it at a prison where typical inmates cook, serve food and do laundry. Martha Stewart will serve her five-month jail sentence for lying about a suspicious stock sale at a minimum-security prison in W. Va., Alderson prison, locally known as "Camp Cupcake," where she is to report by 2 p.m. (EDT) on Oct 8., Reuters reports. The homemaking maven had said she wanted to serve her jail term at Danbury, Conn., or Coleman, Fla., but the U.S. Bureau of Prisons sent her to Alderson because she would receive less media attention there when reporting for the sentence. The facility, located about 200 miles south of Pittsburgh, has no gates or fences and houses more than 1,000 inmates, mostly drug offenders, who sleep in bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms. Past inmates of note have included two women who attempted to kill President Ford, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme of Manson Family infamy and Sara Jane Moore, and Billie Holliday (on a drug charge). Speaking at a news conference earlier this month, Stewart said she is looking forward to getting this behind her and to vigorously pursue her appeal. After her release, Stewart will still have to serve five months of house arrest at her home in suburban Bedford, N.Y., and submit a complete a written report to her probation officer within the first five days of every month. Stewart was found guilty in March of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of agency proceedings stemming from her suspicious sale of stock in biotech company ImClone Systems Inc. on Dec. 27, 2001.
Miramax preparing to distribute Moore's Sicko
Miramax is preparing to finance and distribute Michael Moore's upcoming documentary Sicko, which takes aim at the American healthcare system, Variety reports. Moore's last documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was purchased by Miramax chiefs Bob and Harvey Weinstein's ad hoc Fellowship Adventure Group and released in association with Lions Gate Films and IFC Films after Disney refused to handle the pic. Although the doc is not necessarily as inflammatory as the politically charged Fahrenheit 9/11, it's unclear what Disney's stance on the project is. According to Variety, a stalemate over Sicko could exacerbate the already fragile relationship between Disney CEO Michael Eisner and the Weinsteins.
Lawsuit against DiCaprio dismissed
A judge Wednesday threw out a lawsuit against Leonardo DiCaprio and two other men for their alleged roles in a street fight over Showgirls actress Elizabeth Berkley, the AP reports. DiCaprio, 29, and three others were sued for $45 million by Roger Wilson, 44, who claimed the Titanic star encouraged his friends to attack him outside a Manhattan restaurant on May 4, 1998. Wilson, an actor who appeared in two of the Porky's movies and was dating Berkley at the time, approached DiCaprio and his friends about calling Berkley repeatedly. Wilson's suit claimed DiCaprio aided and abetted the assault by shouting, "go out there and kick his (expletive)" to his friends. DiCaprio's friend Todd Healy admitted to hitting Wilson, claiming it was in self-defense when he thought he saw him reaching for something, possibly a weapon. But Judge Paula Omansky dismissed the action against DiCaprio because Healy never heard the alleged remark, and therefore could not have been incited by it. Omansky, however, said the lawsuit could proceed against Healy.
CBS tops premiere week
In a week during which CBS was fined $550,000 for Janet Jackson's infamous Super Bowl stunt and its news division had to apologize for shoddy reporting, at least the network lead in the ratings. AP reports that during the first official week of the new television season, Sept. 20-26, CBS averaged 13.6 million viewers followed by NBC (10.6 million); ABC (10 million); Fox (5.3 million); the WB (4.2 million); UPN (3.1 million). The top 10 shows were: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS; CSI: Miami, CBS; Without a Trace, CBS; ER, NBC; CSI: NY, CBS; Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS; Law & Order special, NBC; NFL Monday Night Football: Minnesota at Philadelphia, ABC; Lost, ABC; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS.
Franken challenges O'Reilly to a bowling match
On his radio show Wednesday, satirist-commentator Al Franken challenged Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly to a "friendly" bowling match. The proposed face-off would be a part of The Great American Bowl-Off, an Oct. 7 event being organized by the Web site Meetup.com in bowling centers around the country designed to give political partisans a break from campaigning. "If Kerry and Bush supporters can put aside their differences for a day to compete, well then, so can Bill O'Reilly and I," Franken said. But a spokesman for Fox News Channel told AP O'Reilly "is not going to respond to anything Al Franken says."
Star-studded concert tribute held for Ray Charles
Ray Charles, who died June 10 of liver disease, was honored in Los Angeles with a tribute concert that praised the late singer's life and his ability to transcend race and musical genres, AP reports. "Make no mistake about it, there will be no pity party," said music producer Quincy Jones, who met Charles when the two were teens. Jones told the packed audience at the Beverly Hills Hotel Wednesday night that Charles "lived more lives than any 900 of you. In his last days, he told me, 'Man, I've already lived it all.'" Performers included Stevie Wonder, country singer Travis Tritt, former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, and R&B artists James Ingram and Patti Austin, who sang Charles' hits. The event, hosted by Bill Cosby, raised money for the $15 million Morehouse College Center for the Arts in Atlanta. Charles gave the black liberal arts college $2 million to help fund the complex, which will contain a performance space in his name.
Famed NY radio personality dies
Scott Muni, one of the legendary voices of New York radio and who was an AM and FM disc-jockey for nearly 50 years in the country's biggest radio market, died at the age of 74 Tuesday in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. The cause of death was not immediately known
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.