With four biopics out of this week’s six movie releases and a further two DVD
releases we review dealing with real people, it’s a feast for those who, like
our editor Andrew L. Urban, love biopics.
Biographies are the ultimate movie genre; a bit like opera, they potentially
combine the rich texture of real life, which often swings from drama and comedy
to tragedy and farce, from romance to betrayal, jealousy, greed …. and
everything else until death. (I’m not necessarily referring to my own life here
… ) I love the biopics genre, even if not every one of its films; indeed, I love
movies based on fact for the obvious reason that I’m strange and fact is
stranger than fiction. I’m right at home there.
And while on the subject of strange, let’s start with Sagan, the biopic of
Francoise Sagan, who shot to fame in 1959 aged just 19, with her debut book,
Bonjour Tristesse. This would not be quite as remarkable today, given our
constantly renewable need for energetic young people who can be made famous for
one reason or another. But in 1959 …. And Sagan went on to live the kind of life
rock n’roll people soon adopted: sex, drugs and everything else. Sagan won and
lost fortunes at the roulette table, bought and crashed superb sports cars,
drank, danced, snorted cocaine and partied, leaving a trail of lovers – male and
female - in her wake.
French actress Sylvie Testud plays Sagan; if you saw the acclaimed La Vie en
Rose starring Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, you’ll recall Testud as Momone,
her best friend.
"wild as a mountain river, crazy as a cut snake"
The great thing about biographies is that no two are the same. Take another
one that opens this, week, also about a wild woman: Joan Rivers – A Piece of
Work. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg are given extraordinary access to
Joan during her 75th year, and come away with a piece of work of their own. Joan
Rivers is a live running gag, wild as a mountain river, crazy as a cut snake –
yet behind the bravura front is an insecure and misunderstood artist. She is a
comedic icon who resents that she has never been taken seriously as an actress.
Not even an opulent lifestyle in a New York apartment (Marie Antoinette would
live like this if she had money) and a career that threatens to keep going for
plenty more years make up for that.
"an explosive mix of taboos and expletives"
This is not a film for those easily offended; her kind of comedy is an
explosive mix of taboos and expletives. But she moves us by the end with her
sensitivities under the hard make up and plastic skin grafts.
The third movie out this week that falls into the biopic category is the
dramatisation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s widely read and highly acclaimed book of
self discovery (whatever that means), Eat, Pray, Love. Julia Roberts dresses up
as Elizabeth Gilbert and travels to Italy, India, Bali. All the richness of the
prose that brings to life her world is lost in a movie that barely satisfies as
a visual version of the experience.
"Glenn Gould is the subject of an intimate doco"
But it’s not all about women: Glenn Gould is the subject of an intimate doco
(Genius Within: The Inner Life Of Glenn Gould) by Canadian filmmakers Michele
Hozer and Peter Raymont. Toronto-born Gould died from a series of strokes
shortly after his 50th birthday in 1982. He had become something of a legend, an
eccentric and a man of mystery. Above all, he was one of the greatest pianists
of all time, celebrated, adored and very private. And strange.
This portrait is complex, prying into his personality and his character, his
strange aloofness coupled with bursts of intimacy. We learn about his
hypochondria, his fanatical attention to detail, his imposing control over
everything – especially the recordings of his works. Yet no-one speaks ill of
him; even those who couldn’t live with him make a point of explaining how decent
Being a fan, I now hear his work in a new, rich context.
"newly remastered Breaker Morant"
Another man who has made his mark in history is the subject of the newly
remastered Breaker Morant (on DVD), Bruce Beresford’s outstanding 1979 film
starring Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Charles
‘Bud’ Tingwell, John Waters, Terence Donovan, Vincent Ball, Ray Meagher, Chris
Haywood, Rod Mullinar.
During the bitter South African Boer War in 1901, the (mostly Dutch) Boers are
desperate to retain their independence from Britain and mobilize ‘commando’
forces with hardline tactics. A unit of the Bushveldt Carbineers, mainly
Australians, are ordered by the British High Command to take the fight to the
Boer - and take no prisoners. The order proves fatal to a man they call “The
Breaker” – Lieutenant Harry Morant (Edward Woodward) an Englishman whose
nickname was earned in the Aussie bush as a horse wrangler, and for Lt Peter
Handcock (Bryan Brown). Along with Lt George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), the men
are court martialled, and junior lawyer Major J. F. Thomas (Jack Thompson) is
assigned to defend them.
Released as a premium edition double disc with the whole second disc devoted to
extras, this is a collector’s item, worth many repeat viewings.
Gillian Armstrong contributes another – perhaps last – chapter with her fifth
film in the award winning documentary series about the lives, hopes and dreams
of three lively, working class Adelaide girls, having started when they were 14
in 1976. Over more than thirty years, Kerry, Josie and Diana’s struggles have
been recorded for this series. They are now 47 and two are grandmothers.
"genuine and meaningful insights into human nature"
Real life, unlike ‘reality’ shows on TV, offers genuine and meaningful
insights into human nature and makes all our strangeness somehow understandable
and acceptable … most of the time.
Published October 7, 2010
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Genius Within - The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Eat, Pray, Love
Love Lust and Lies