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A Companion to the Biopic. Edition No. 1

  • ID: 5225945
  • Book
  • December 2019
  • 464 Pages
  • John Wiley and Sons Ltd
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The most comprehensive reference text of theoretical and historical discourse on the biopic film

The biopic, often viewed as the most reviled of all film genres, traces its origins to the early silent era over a century ago. Receiving little critical attention, biopics are regularly dismissed as superficial, formulaic, and disrespectful of history. Film critics, literary scholars and historians tend to believe that biopics should be artistic, yet accurate, true-to-life representations of their subjects. Moviegoing audiences, however, do not seem to hold similar views; biopics continue to be popular, commercially viable films. Even the genre’s most ardent detractors will admit that these films are often very watchable, particularly due to the performance of the lead actor. It is increasingly common for stars of biographical films to garner critical praise and awards, driving a growing interest in scholarship in the genre.

A Companion to the Biopic is the first global and authoritative reference on the subject. Offering theoretical, historical, thematic, and performance-based approaches, this unique volume brings together the work of top scholars to discuss the coverage of the lives of authors, politicians, royalty, criminals, and pop stars through the biopic film. Chapters explore evolving attitudes and divergent perspectives on the genre with topics such as the connections between biopics and literary melodramas, the influence financial concerns have on aesthetic, social, or moral principles, the merger of historical narratives with Hollywood biographies, stereotypes and criticisms of the biopic genre, and more. This volume:

  • Provides a systematic, in-depth analysis of the biopic and considers how the choice of historical subject reflects contemporary issues
  • Places emphasis on films that portray race and gender issues
  • Explores the uneven boundaries of the genre by addressing what is and is not a biopic as well as the ways in which films simultaneously embrace and defy historical authenticity
  • Examines the distinction between reality and ‘the real’ in biographical films
  • Offers a chronological survey of biopics from the beginning of the 20th century

A Companion to the Biopic is a valuable resource for researchers, scholars, and students of history, film studies, and English literature, as well as those in disciplines that examine interpretations of historical figures 

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List of Contributors ix

Acknowledgements xiii

List of Figures xv

1 Introduction 1
Deborah Cartmell and Ashley D. Polasek

Part I Approaches 11

2 Biopics and the Trembling Ethics of the Real 13
Timothy Corrigan

3 Biopics and the Melodramatic Mode 23
Sonia Amalia Haiduc

4 Television Biopics: Questions of Genre, Nation, and Medium 45
Jonathan Bignell

5 Alexander Mackendrick’s Mary Stuart and Alan Sharp’s Burns: Two Unfilmed Scottish Biopics 61
Brian Hoyle

Part II Histories 87

6 The Hollywood Biopic of the Twentieth Century: A History 89
Deborah Cartmell

7 Silent Biopics 103
Gregory Robinson

8 A Match Made in Heaven?: The Biopic in Pre‐Revolution Russian Cinema 125
Henrik Christensen

9 The Golden Age Hollywood Biopic: The Barretts of Wimpole Street 1934–1957 147
Deborah Cartmell

10 Caligula, History, and the Erotic Imagination 159
I.Q. Hunter

11 Representing the Unrepresentable: The Army of Crime and Biopic Generic Conventions of Identity 191
Hila Shachar

12 Nature Versus Nurture/Wilderness Versus Words: Syncretising Binaries and the Getting of Wisdom in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007) 209
Melissa Croteau

Part III Sub‐biopic Genres 231

13 Fleming, Adaptation, and the Author Biopic 233
Jeremy Strong

14 Partial Presidential Biography on Stage and Screen: Franklin D. Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello 247
Dean J. Kotlowski

15 Can the Biopic Subjects Speak?: Disembodied Voices in The King’s Speech and The Theory of Everything 269
Alexa Alice Joubin

16 Biographical Fantasia on Screen: Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein, Karol Radziszewski’s MS 101, and the Strategy of Detournement 283
Robert Kusek

17 The Criminal and the Yarn: Adapting and Performing Notoriety 297
Imelda Whelehan

18 ‘The Man Behind the Myth’: Mr. Holmes and the Fictional Biopic 309
Ashley D. Polasek

Part IV Biopic Performances 331

19 ‘She was an actress …’: Performing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady 333
Christine Geraghty

20 Film (Noir) à Clef: Jailhouse Rock, A Hard Day’s Night, and the ‘Jukebox’ Biopic 353
Robert Miklitsch

21 A Recipe for Life: Constructing the Biopic through New Media 375
Annie Nissen

22 Performance and Prestige in the Biopic, or Stardom and Statuettes 395
Colleen Kennedy‐Karpat

23 The Matter of Black Lives: Representations of Prominent Afro‐Americans in Biopics 415
Lucinda Hobbs

Index 435

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Deborah Cartmell De Montford University, UK.

Ashley D. Polasek
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