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Hamilton Bio-Pic?

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There’s a been a bit of buzz across the blogosphere in the last 24 hours supporting Hendrik Hertzberg’s call for an Alexander Hamilton movie.

Of all the Founders’ lives, Hamilton’s was the most garishly cinematic. Consider these elements: born in the West Indies (the film could open with a sweeping aerial shot of palm trees and blue water); spends his childhood among black people; is reared in struggling, humble circumstances; attends a Jewish school after the Church of England school denies him admission because of his illegitimate birth; orphaned at around twelve when his mother dies; is so impressive a youth that funds are raised to send him to the northern mainland to further his education; studies at Kings College (now Columbia); becomes a student revolutionary pamphleteer and, at twenty, a revolutionary soldier; rises to be George Washington’s most trusted aide de camp, almost like a son to the childless general; hurts Washington’s feelings by leaving his staff to seek, and find, battlefield glory; friend of Lafayette; incredibly handsome, dashing, and charming; successful and imaginative politician; writes call for Constitutional Convention; still in his mid-thirties, is made President Washington’s secretary of the treasury and ghosts his farewell address; mired in spectacular sex scandal, foils cuckolded husband’s blackmail by making full disclosure; maneuvers to stop Adams’s election as President but is appointed by Adams to command the army anyway; jousts with Jefferson; back in New York, still in his forties, founds the Evening Post; the duel; the fatal wound; the deathbed farewells.

How can this miss?

How can it miss? Pretty bloody easily!

Most bio-pics are not good movies. You could probably make a mediocre film about Hamilton fairly easily, but something good? Bio-pics are hamstrung by the need to justify the film through telling a semi-mythological tale about a beloved figure but having to follow the sometimes less than cinematic realities of a person’s life. You can make a popular movie about someone where the world has truly bought into the myth, but that doesn’t make the film very good. I particularly note “I Walk the Line” here, which both bought into the post-Rick Rubin veneration of Cash into something almost otherworldly and fabricated a story about him that fit the guidelines of a sweeping Hollywood movie. June might have indeed saved Johnny in the end, but he was a total asshole to her for most of their relationship. Among the many things the film leaves out is his relapse into drug abuse that nearly destroyed their relationship in the late 60s and 70s. Doesn’t fit the narrative. Not to mention the 25 years of consistently horrible albums between about 1968 and 1993.

You might say I am nitpicking, but that’s precisely the point. I know and care enough about Cash and country music to want a legitimate bio-pic about him, not the sanitized narrative that we were presented. Same goes for the Muhammad Ali picture. “When We Were Kings” was far more interesting and enlightening about Ali. The Harvey Milk movie was better, but that’s largely because Milk’s life was pretty cinematic, especially his assassination and what he represented to millions of people. Sean Penn never hurts either.

You might also say that Alexander Hamilton is different because he doesn’t have the same 20th century baggage of visual memories that we project on bio-pics (I found the complaints that Anthony Hopkins didn’t look like Richard Nixon annoying, if we are looking for an imitation, we really cut into the number of actors we can hire for these parts). True, but we also create mythical baggage of our past leaders, including and especially the Founding Fathers. We want them to tell us specific stories about ourselves, our past, and our nation. That Hamilton is somewhat less known to the general public than Jefferson, Washington, or Adams actually could help such a film. What precisely is that story that needs to be told from Hamilton’s life? The lack of an obvious answer makes me more curious about such a project’s potential.

And just what are the fine films about American leaders in the century of American film? The best is probably “Young Mr. Lincoln”, but that’s the kind of exercise in pure populist mythology that would be really hard to pull off anymore. I didn’t see the John Adams thing but I know people liked it. “1776?”

It’s just easier and usually makes for better films to create people out of your imagination to tell the stories you think need to be told. Real lives don’t often translate well onto the screen without a lot of problems arising.

On top of all of this, to include everything Hertzberg lists would make the film about 6 hours long or way too rushed. So maybe a Hamilton mini-series might be semi-interesting. Hard to see a successful feature film though.

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  • Robert Farley

    Hamilton mini-series might be interesting. The John Adams bio was pretty good, even for those who think that it soft-pedaled the most negative aspects of his career. Giamatti was fantastic as a hostile, crotchety Adams.

    • Yeah – JOHN ADAMS was a pretty great miniseries. It didn’t shrink back from the fact that John Adams was really kind of an unlikeable dickhead (as opposed to a Hollywood lovable dickhead). Most of its inaccuracies are fairly minor (Adams definitely used his influence to help his son-in-law, rather than being upright and moral and saying “no, find your own path” or anything like that).

    • +1

      And Robert, please get out of my head. Or at least move the couch.

  • Western Dave

    I think you get a good movie out of this by using Hamilton as a metaphor for modern day contradictions in our society. On the one hand Hamilton believed in meritocracy and social mobility but was a staunch elitist. Racially progressive for his time, he fiercely denied rumors about his own mixed ancestry. A believer in the importance of parties, he through fellow Federalists under the bus to support Jefferson because he preferred him to both Burr and Adams. And the guy invented modern banking in the US by chartering a water company to provide fresh water to Manhattan. That last one in of itself could be a fascinating movie. I think I like either “Young Alexander Hamilton” that follows his early upbringing until Kings College (he was running a business as a teenager!) or post-Revolutionary Hamilton in NYC up to the duel (opening shot would be, well the closing shot and then told in flashback).

    • LKS

      I think a miniseries would work. Hamilton’s life is too complicated for a movie. A two-hour movie is basically a long short-story. If you try to cover too much, you lose the plot.

      • I’ve never thought about movies as long short-stories, but you’re right. It makes a lot more sense now why movies based on full novels tend to either suck bad or cut out so much of the plot.

        • SEK

          It’s not a coincidence that the most complex narratives–Deadwood, The Wire, and so on–are currently being told in a serialized format instead of the silver screen. Unless a character is previously established–that is, they’re a known quantity, i.e. serialized items like Bruce Wayne/Batman–films simply aren’t substantial enough to develop a character. The television/novel vs. film/short story/tone poem analogy is a solid one. (And an explanation for why Short Cuts failed as a coherent film, even by Altman’s looser standards for cohesion: solid films are the equivalent of single short stories, not a series of them.

          • John

            films simply aren’t substantial enough to develop a character.

            This seems like a really problematic claim to me. Was Michael Corleone not a developed character? Charles Foster Kane?

            I’d also say that, in terms of amount of content it can include, a film is more like a novella than a short story. When true short stories get adapted into films they inevitably have to pad out the plot with lots of extra stuff. A short story is more equivalent to a single hour-long TV episode – like a Twilight Zone episode or the like.

            • SEK

              Was Michael Corleone not a developed character?

              I’d say he’s not, which is what makes him interesting. His decisions to leave the family, return to the family, and eventually run the family are inscrutable, but they hint at a greater complexity behind their surface contradictions. In short, I’d say the first two Godfather films are evidence of film’s inability to fully develop character in relief: their brilliance is a function of Coppola’s understanding of film’s limitations and a master-course in what can and can’t be accomplished when transforming a terrible 1,500 page novel into a cinematic masterpiece.

              • John

                Hmm…maybe. Certainly film doesn’t allow the kind of psychological depth you can get from a great novel – there is no film character we know so well as Leopold Bloom, or even Emma Bovary.

                That being said, I’m not convinced there’s any TV characters we know that well, either. Certainly not Al Swearengen or Jimmy McNulty. Maybe Tony Soprano comes close.

                I’d add that your criteria would seem to suggest that plays, also, aren’t substantial enough to develop a character. In fact, they ought to be even worse than films, since films can do a lot with visuals that plays can’t. Would you say that a really great Shakespeare production can’t develop characters? You seem to be demanding an incredibly high standard for what a “developed character” is, perhaps one that nothing but the high modernist novel has ever really delivered.

  • ploeg

    You wouldn’t need to do the whole life of Hamilton at a go either. Start with the Revolutionary War, say, and if that works, there can always be a sequel.

    Of course, I wouldn’t watch a Hamilton biopic unless he gets to fight the lion.

    • rkd

      and the electric penguin!

  • Richard

    Most bio-pics are not good movies.

    That might be true in a literal sense – 50% of bipics are not good movies – but there are plenty of great biopics

    Raging Bull
    Ray
    Patton
    Buddy Holly Story
    Coal Miner’s Daughter

    And to say that Cash made consistently horrible albums between 1968 and 1993 is just plain wrong.
    Maybe you’ve never heard live at Folsom and live at San Quentin (plus John R., Johnny 99, Gone Girl, many others)

    • Ray? Seriously?

      Also, 1969 and 93. I thought San Quentin came out in 68. And yes, I’ve heard these albums. They sometimes have a good song or two. And a lot of crap.

      • LKS

        They sometimes have a good song or two. And a lot of crap

        .Hey, it worked for the Rolling Stones…

        • Auguste

          +1

        • firefall

          for most of their career, until they forgot about the one or two good songs, anyway

          • Scott Lemieux

            Anybody who thinks that Stones albums from their peak years had only 1 or 2 good songs is out of their goddamned mind. (Indeed, on those albums that album tracks are generally better than the AOR favorites.)

            • John

              Indeed. Even a mediocre album like Goats Head Soup actually has several good songs that aren’t radio hits (Winter and 100 Years Ago, in particular). And the four albums before that were full of great songs.

              I will say that the Stones never managed to produce an album where every song was essential. Sticky Fingers comes closest, but even that has “You Gotta Move,” which is the illustration for “inessential” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. There’s almost always filler. “Casino Boogie”? “Country Honk”? “Parachute Woman”?

              But there’s really very few albums of which that can’t be said.

            • LKS

              I’m out of my goddamned mind, then.

              • John

                I think one could make the argument that Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed each have only two good songs. “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” in the former case, and “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in the latter are head and shoulders above the rest of those albums, and I guess you could say that everything else is filler. Not that I would – I very much like No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle, Stray Cat Blues, Salt of the Earth, Love in Vain, Let It Bleed, You Got the Silver, and Monkey Man. But you could make the case, I guess.

                I don’t think there’s a reasonable argument that there’s only a couple of good songs on Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. Virtually every song on Sticky Fingers is very good to great (except You Gotta Move, which is filler; I wouldn’t hold it against someone to not care about “I Got the Blues” either, and the boogying part of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” goes on too long. But Sway, the non-boogying part of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Sister Morphine, Dead Flowers, and Moonlight Mile are all great; the singles you hear on the radio are all good Stones singles of the sort you hear on the radio – Brown Sugar’s deeply offensive lyrics give it a special place in their catalogue).

                And Exile has its share of filler, but there’s so many good songs on it. It certainly doesn’t fit the mold of “two very memorable singles, and a bunch of filler.”

                So you’re wrong.

        • LosGatosCA

          Sucking in the Seventies.

          All downhill after the 60’s.

      • Richard

        Folsom came out in 1968 and San Quentin in 1969. Can anyone claim that these arent great albums, especially Folsom? We obviously disagree on later Cash. While I wouldn’t claim that any of his albums of the 70s and 80s were masterpieces, a half dozen of them were extremely good with far more than a good song or two.

        Yes, seriously with regard to Ray. Incredible job of impersonating Ray plus it was a solid, highly entertaining film which presented a complex portrait of Mr. Charles

        • Did I not just say that I should have said 1969 since I thought the 2 live albums were released by 68?

          • Richard

            Well if you’re now saying he only made horrible albums from 1970 to 1993 (San Quentin was 1969), I still disagree (but at least you’ve conceded that the two live prison albums aren’t horrible)

            • Christ on a stick, it’s not a fucking concession, I got the dates wrong.

    • LKS

      Most movies are crap. The ratio of watchable biopics to crappy ones is probably consistent with the overall ratio.

      Also according to something I read somewhere years ago, what saved Raging Bull was Robert De Niro’s uncredited, last-minute rewrite. The great Scorsese and the first four writers who took at stab at it couldn’t figure out how to make a move out of La Motta’s book, even with it all laid out right there in front of them.

      My point being that I think most good movies are lucky accidents where the right idea happens to cross paths with the right person who knows how to make it work.

      • LosGatosCA

        Exactly.

    • Ed

      Yes, if anything biopics are better than they used to be and are held to higher standards of historical accuracy, even if we never get anything as entertaining as Clark Gable’s Parnell or Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino as Charlotte and Emily Bronte these days.

      The Sylvia Plath picture with Gwyneth Paltrow was considerably better than I expected, with Daniel Craig perfectly cast as Hughes even if he is too short. I would also include The King’s Speech, which of its kind is very good.

      “Milk” was surprisingly mediocre. I didn’t think Penn caught Milk that well and the direction and writing were often cliched. Most of what was good in the film was “borrowed” from the great documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk.”

      • I actually watched The Times of Harvey Milk for the first time last night. It was pretty outstanding.

      • John

        Clark Gable’s Parnell? How have I never heard of this movie before? Clark Gable and Myrna Loy as Parnell and Kitty O’Shea!

    • What? No love for Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet? How many films can you name that deal with STDs?

  • GeraldY

    “Consistently horrible albums” is an exaggerated description. The albums during that period were weak compared to other periods in Cash’s career (with the exception of John R. Cash, which is quite good), but they are listenable and they are certainly better than an average album made by an average artist.

    It’s also unfair to single Cash out here. Many of country music’s giants (Jones, Owens, Lynn, etc.) also had a rough time during that period. Your comment is shows a lack of sensitivity to the context of the period.

    • Yes, country musicians of all stripes had a tough time during these years. Haggard and Willie less. But the difference is that you talk to anyone on the street or any young hipster and they extol Cash to the sky. Which is fine, he was great despite his quarter-century of crap. But the assumption that Cash is better than Jones or Haggard or Owens or Lynn without even listening to those people drives me up the fucking wall.

      To say that Johnny Cash had a pretty similar career to a lot of great country singers is quite accurate. To ignore that fact to create a heroic figure out of context of his time and musical genre is a big problem. That film bought the myth hook, line, and sinker.

      • Richard

        Well I don’t think that Jones had a tough time during those years. His greatest songs and albums are from the 70s

        In general, I agree with your comment about Cash and other country singers. I’m a huge Cash fan but also a huge fan of George and Merle and Buck (although later Buck is pretty dire – he never recaptured the spark after the death of Don Rich.

        • Right–I should have more specific about the years for the others. In general, the 80s is bad for those guys, though even Haggard was producing some quality during those years. But hey, the 80s were bad for everything.

          • Richard

            Actually George had some great stuff in the early 80s (his signature song He Stopped Loving Her Today is from 1980) but your’e right that the stuff from the late 80s and 90s is pretty bad (although the reason for that was primarily his drinking and increasing insanity).

        • GeraldY

          You’re right. I should have looked up the George dates. For some reason, I associate those songs with the early 70s.

      • GeraldY

        I don’t like the hipster image either. Still, that image has to be separated from the man himself. There is some decent 70s and 80s Cash music; you just have to separate the wheat from the chaff more carefully.

      • Malaclypse

        Okay, but the 1970s also saw Cash perform this masterwork.

        Why do you hate America, Loomis? America and frogs.

      • John

        Cash is beloved by hipsters who don’t listen to any other country music. That is lame, but not really his fault.

    • Your comment is shows a lack of sensitivity to the context of the period.

      Indeed, sensitivity is the most important quality to show when considering the delicate flowers of country music.

      • Matt T.

        Sensitivity, maybe not, but knowing what one is talking about, certainly.

  • norbizness

    “There’s a been a bit of buzz across the blogosphere in the last 24 hours supporting Hendrik Hertzberg’s call for an Alexander Hamilton movie.”

    No there hasn’t.

    • strannix

      Well, you know, just “a bit”. Please learn to identify your weasel words before complaining.

  • How about “Many country artists, including those listed by GeraldY above, had a difficult time in the 1970s and 1980s as they tried to compete with the shit that was being sold as ‘country,’ but was mostly bad rock songs without the Muscle Shoals/Atlanta Rhythm Section to make it listenable?”

    A Hamilton miniseries would require a “Liberal” version of David McCullough to write the ur-text which would then be turned into a Paul Giamatti movie. Since there are no Liberal History Biography Writers, it’s a quixotic hope. (As Hertzberg himself noted, not quite so directly, no one has been properly instructed on why Hamilton is on the $10 bill for decades—he’s been targetted by the Conservative/McCullough mafia to be replaced by Reagan for a reason.)

    And Dan Hedaya as Nixon was quite fine, thank you. That Dick makes more sense than Nixon did is just lagniappe.

    • Walt

      That movie (Dick) was so great.

      • jeer9

        Dick is very funny, especially Ferrell’s turn as Woodward.
        Other decent biopics that come to mind:
        Schindler’s List
        The Fighter
        The Pianist
        The Elephant Man
        Infamous which I prefer to Capote because of its humor.
        Sid and Nancy
        Monster
        I nominate Reds as the worst biopic, followed closely by A Beautiful Mind

        • Richard

          Also on the decent to great list – Lawrence of Arabia, Ghandi, La Bamba, Frida (a little stagey but some good moments), La Vie en Rose, Pride of the Yankees.

          Reds and A Beautiful Mind aren’t great but I wouldn’t put them in the worst category. That’s reserved for Great Balls of Fire, that old movie about Cole Porter with Cary Grant, The Conqueror with John Wayne as Genghis Khan and Your Cheating Heart with George Hamilton as Hank Williams

          • LKS

            LoA is a great film, but in the historical accuracy department, it’s pretty much wrong about everything, and Arabs (rightfully) don’t like how they are portrayed in it.

            Also, O’Toole was about a foot taller than the real Lawrence.

            • Richard

              Not saying anything about the historical accuracy, just that it was a great movie.

              • jeer9

                “I can’t make out whether you’re bad-mannered or just half-witted.”

                “I have the same problem, sir.”

                “Shut up.”

              • LKS

                I saw the restored version in San Jose, CA when it came out. Absolutely breathtaking.

          • I’m just sorry, but the Conqueror was just great. Of course the only time I watched it was after those brownies, but still.

        • C.S.

          My Left Foot
          Elvis with Kurt Russel — yes, the TV movie.
          Ed Wood
          All That Jazz

          • C.S.

            To Hell And Back

            • LosGatosCA

              Fear strikes out

    • LKS

      A ciient of mine in Nashville at the time, who was also a small-time country music songwriter and session musician, quipped that he was surprised no one had recorded a country cover of [sings in twang] “Thar’s a lady who knows, that whar-ay-var she goes…”

      • ploeg

        “Oh, cain’t you seeeeee….. You beelong to meeeee….. How my poor heart ay-akes, with every step you tayke.”

        Or alternatively: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHPhZwZKvzk

      • No? Really? No one?

        • LKS

          Parton’s cover wasn’t released until 2002, long after the original comment was made.

          • firefall

            When was Rolf Harris’s version? (although what you qualify that as, is a bit beyond me)

    • UserGoogol

      Jackson’s the one we should kick off money.

      Also, I haven’t seen Dick, but Dave Foley as H.R. Haldeman is a delightful casting.

      • Hogan

        Wait till you see Saul Rubinek as Kissinger.

    • John

      Wait, Alexander Hamilton is a liberal icon now? The man wanted a British-style monarchy in the United States and was explicitly and openly anti-democratic. I’m confused.

  • I suggest a situation comedy called “Ham and Jeff” based on the odd couple motif: Tom Jefferson and Alex Hamilton become roommates: they argue at their day jobs but come home and put the bickering aside to face such wacky adventures as forgetting to send the linens to the washerwoman or failing to renew the subscription for Poor Richard’s Almanac.

    • Where does Sally Hemings fit into this scenario?

      • “Prone.”

      • I would throw Sally and Maria Reynolds in as a bedroom farce thing – both Jefferson and Hamilton are trying to keep their affairs secret, lots of slammed doors, mistaken identities, etc.

    • Njorl

      And Aaron Burr could fill the roll Newman played in Seinfeld. “Burr!”

      • giovanni da procida

        I’d watch a Burr biopic. The attempt to conquer Mexico, lots of sex scenes, great courtroom scenes (both Burr’s trial and the Samuel Chase trial). A Burr biopic would rule.

        • MR Bill

          I was thinking the same thing..It is already a great novel (and one imagines Vidal’s American Sequence as a BBC project over several years.)

          There are some awful biopics that are great fun: “The Private Life of Henry VIII”, or “They Died with their Boots On”, or “Mommy Dearest”.

  • Charl

    The best biopics are arty takes on the nature of story-telling and the elusiveness of their subject, like Citizen Kane, 24-Hour Party People, and Velvet Goldmine.

    • This. And that’s why Raging Bull is so great too.

      • L2P

        I don’t think biopics are more or less likely than other movies to deal with “the nature of story-telling.” That’s kind of the nature of artsy movies more than biopics.

        There is a tendency for the plot to focus on a slow revealing of some mysterious aspect of character. However, I’d say that’s because most biopics are about people who’s lives are either (a) pretty boring, or (b) generally pretty well known. To make anything like an entertaining movie you have to make the plot about finding out some sort of mystery. Think Immortal Beloved – are you really going to watch 2 hours of some german guy writing music? And if you’re making a biopic of FDR, you’re going to focus on something obscure like an purported affair or some quirk that arguably illuminates his politics, b/c otherwise you’re just filming a newsreel.

        But I don’t think “the elusiveness of the subject” is generally the focus of these movies. The plot hides some of the character’s characteristics and drives, but the point of the movies generally aren’t that people are inherently unknowable or inscrutable. That’s just a standard plot device you can find in any gothic romance.

        • Charl

          Yeah, I’m talking about a couple specific biopics (see above) that do investigate these topics, and that’s what makes them uniquely successful.

    • JMP

      And also Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which is my favorite biopic ever.

      • witless chum

        Mine, too.

        • Joseph Slater

          And mine.

  • brandon

    I think you’re right on in your criticism of bio movies, but off on the reasons why they suck.

    The problem is not that they’re made ‘cinematic’, but more that they’re made ‘Hollywood cinematic’, where the characters always seem to have to follow the same tired arc towards greatness or ascension.

    In the right hands the honest character flaws and foibles of probably any famous subject could be made ‘cinematic’ and the film would be greater for it, but that’s exactly the stuff Hollywood likes to dull out, usually turning the subject into a beatific dullard.

    • mpowell

      That’s why the movie Blow was kind of cool. At the end, he’s lost everything.

      • mark f

        Except that no one in Massachusetts pronounces “George” like “Jaahj.” I think it’s great that Hollywood is making more movies here, but they really need to cut the shit with the accents. Movies set in Chicago don’t have everyone sounding like a Da Bears skit.

        • jeer9

          On the other hand, they didn’t even try with The Departed.

          • Njorl

            I didn’t want to see it at first, because I thought it was a movie about removing plants from their pots.

        • firefall

          unlike living there

    • SEK

      In the right hands the honest character flaws and foibles of probably any famous subject could be made ‘cinematic’ and the film would be greater for it, but that’s exactly the stuff Hollywood likes to dull out, usually turning the subject into a beatific dullard.

      I’m not great defender of Hollywood, but as noted in my comment above, the flatness of characters in films is, in part, a function of the medium. A complex portrait of a complex person can’t be squeezed into two and a half hours, so films are forced to rely on stock characters whose features and foibles are already known to the audience. The best films create characters whose decisions evoke a greater complexity, but that’s about it. Think, for example, of the difference between the over-the-top performance of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood and the also over-the-top performance of Ian McShane in Deadwood: Plainview’s motivations are so opaque and unknowable that the character drifts into a despotic caricature, whereas Swearengen begins the series as a despotic caricature and develops complexity as he becomes a sympathetic despot.

      • LKS

        It’s not just the time limit. It’s also the point of view. The camera can’t see what characters are thinking or feeling unless the thought/emotion is what actors call “playable”. Writing dialog (or worse, voice-over narration) to reveal what characters are thinking/feeling is extremely difficult to do convincingly in cinema. Not impossible, but very difficult.

        I think that’s one reason why stage plays often adapt better than novels. The playwright is dealing with similar POV constraints.

  • TT

    All movies are fiction, “biopic”, “based on a true story”, “based on actual events”, or otherwise. The medium’s limitations demand it. Like it or not (and I’m of two minds here) expecting the truth beyond the most basic historical facts misunderstands the whole purpose of movies, which is entertainment.

    The good–or at least entertaining–films about historical or notable figures usually focus on a compressed period of that person’s life. Even TV miniseries, with ten are more hours at their disposal, are more often than not forced into truncating and/or altering the truth for dramatic effect.

  • Jim Lynch

    Picture this: Johnny Cash reincarnated as Hamilton, and Hamilton reincarnated as Johnny Cash!

    Starring Tim McGraw as Cash, and Meryl Streep as Hamilton (she can do anything). Directed by Michael Moore.

  • ajay

    I think the important thing is that it follows the plot of essentially every biopic ever:
    EARLY PROMISE
    SUCCESS
    COLLAPSE INTO SUBSTANCE ABUSE OR MADNESS
    REDEEMED BY LOVE OF A GOOD WOMAN

  • Andy

    For those who enjoy fictional characters and historical ones, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will be released June 22, 2012.

    • While I’m skeptical this will be good, I like the idea on principle.

      • LKS

        How can it possibly go wrong?

      • ajay

        Vampires as a metaphor for slaveholders (superficially charming aristocrats subsisting off the blood of enslaved humans!) have real potential. They may or may not decide to go that way.

    • John

      This woman is playing Mary Lincoln. I think we can tell that liberties are being taken with the facts.

      • Does she get chased thru the Arctic desert by a 25 foot tall penguin with electric wings, so that her clothes come off on cacti?

        Cuz that would make it more realistic

      • Hogan

        Oh man. I hope they just stick to the facts about the vampire hunting.

        • John

          I can suspend disbelief about Abe Lincoln hunting vampires. I have a much harder time suspending disbelief about him having a hot wife.

        • LKS

          Yes, I’d be put off if, for example, they used non-contemporaneous anti-vampire weaponry.

          • Walt

            This is funny, but true. It bothered me when the X-Men had their super-advanced plane in X-Men: First Class. The fact that people could stop bullets with the power of their mind didn’t bother me, but the plane did.

  • chris y

    I’d rather watch an adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Burr, which has the advantage of being fictional(ised) in the first place

    • mark f

      Yes, but think of its potential to turn loads of mainstream Democrats into Tea Party nutjobs.

    • Been done: Sam Waterson and Mary Tyler Moore.

  • sleepyirv

    Hamilton’s life might not make a great biopic, but it should make produce a great pop-biography every decade or so.

    • There was the Chernow biography a few years back.

      • L2P

        I liked it.

      • LosGatosCA

        Actually,I thought the whole blogosphere buzz was started by Chernow’s agent.

  • wengler

    If you named your biopic series Early American Assholes I’d be on board with this one.

    As ajay said above, biopics suck for the same reason as war movies suck. They are all too predictable. Combine this with Hollywood’s unwillingness to criticize ‘the Founders’ in any overt way and you got one big film roll of suck. Burr will be the plotting villain always trying to get one up on our hero-Alexander fucking Hamilton.

    Also, for everyone who liked the miniseries John Adams, can you honestly say it was because of the storytelling rather than Giamatti and Linney and the stellar production design? That series could’ve been contracted considerably and it would have still been dull.

    • I don’t think I can go with the idea that war movies suck. I mean, there are a lot of terrible war movies, no question. But there are also a good number of awesome war movies.

      • The best war movies (say, Patton, since we’re talking biopics anyway) focus down on the effects of war on men, trading off the pageantry of the big picture (like Saving Private Ryan) for the intimacy of human conflict (Run Silent, Run Deep or Das Boot)

        • LKS

          Sink the Bismarck and A Bridge Too Far are a couple of “big picture” films that IMO succeeded admirably without getting much into the Personal Horror of War stuff.

          On the other extreme, a film just about impossible to find these days, Spitfire (1942, previously under other titles) is a superb biopic-war film that has very little actual war in it, as most of it takes place before the Battle of Britain.

          • jeer9

            Always liked The Enemy Below, a 1950s WWII film about submarine warfare with Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens.

          • John

            A Bridge Too Far is very entertaining. It is also awesome because it features Gene Hackman as a Polish general.

    • John

      I thought John Adams, like many miniseries, was wildly uneven. The episodes on the Declaration of Independence and his presidency were, I thought, very good dramatizations of historical episodes. The other episodes were frequently tedious.

  • urizon

    A biopic isn’t about bringing a person’s life story to the big screen; it’s about turning a person’s life story into something entertaining. This is true for every biopic, from the great (Lawrence of Arabia) to the not-so-great (Great Balls of Fire). Hagiography is a hallmark of the form.

  • burritoboy

    Hamilton’s biography is nearly completely unfilmable.

    1. The other founders did things that were visually exciting: Washington as general and public speaker, Jefferson’s personality and love affairs, Franklin’s jokes and general randiness, Adams’ family life and courtroom performances, etc. What Hamilton did was primarily as a backroom organizer: he was Washington’s spymaster, he was Morris’ protege as the financial organizer of the early republic, his founding of the new republic’s financial and economic systems, and so on. Hamilton was usually the man behind the scenes, leaving Washington and others to be the front men.

    2. Hamilton was much more Machiavellian than the other Founders. He was perfectly willing to manipulate George Washington’s emotions, to threaten a military coup if the veterans didn’t get paid, to engage in dubious financial transactions and so on.

    3. Hamilton’s private life is interesting enough, but it didn’t have that much to do with his politics. Washington’s stolid and virtuous private life was in accord with his public persona. Thomas Jefferson’ turbulent inter-racial affairs mirrored his own political difficulties reconciling slavery with democracy. Franklin’s impish personal promiscuity mirrored his humorous and somewhat comedic public persona. And so on. But I simply don’t think that Hamilton’s private life does particularly shed much light on his public life.

    • So basically, it’s Richard III, or All The President’s Men?

      • burritoboy

        No, Hamilton didn’t seem to want much personal overt power – he seemed to (generally) imitate his mentor Morris: operating behind the scenes and controlling vital planning and analysis functions (intelligence services, financial systems, etc) is the way to go.

        Which does not make a compelling movie.

  • I would like to see a John Brown bio-pick, perhaps directed by Spike Lee.

    • Sterling Hayden played John Brown in The Blue and the Gray. Which is kind of awesome.

      • davenoon

        I won’t be happy until someone makes a movie about Nat Turner.

        • Bill Murray

          Preferably from Kyle Baker’s graphic novel.

  • partisan

    What are the greatest biopics? Well let’s look at theyshootpictures.com top 1000 movies of all time:

    Lawrence of Arabia (#13)
    Raging Bull (#19)
    Aguirre: the Wrath of God (#89)
    Napoleon (#107)
    Ivan the Terrible (#169, 174)
    The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (#179) (which is closer to its subject’s life than The Last Temptation of Christ at #734)
    Schindler’s List (#198)
    The Scarlet Empress (#295)
    Spartacus (#379)
    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (#388)
    The Flowers of Saint Francis (#401)
    Henry V (#404)
    The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (#491)
    Reds (#513)
    Fellini’s Casanova (#523)
    Young Mr. Lincoln (#567)
    Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (#576)
    The Wild Child (#584)
    Van Gogh (#586)
    The Elephant Man (#626)
    Ludwig (#665)
    Gandhi (#735)
    The Rise to Power of Louis XIV (#742)
    A Man for All Seasons (#790)
    The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (#857)
    Ed Wood (#863)
    The Last Emperor (#931)

    What can we say about this list? Well obviously, many, arguably most of these films are not trying to pass historical muster. I doubt George Roy Hill really cared that much about the actual history of his protagonists. Some of these biopics are about people like Oskar Schindler and Jake La Motta whose main historical claim to fame is that major movies were made about them. I know historians don’t like the portraits of Thomas More and Mohandas Gandhi, and many cineophiles don’t like Fred Zinnerman or Richard Attenborough. But clearly enough people like Paul Scofield and Ben Kingsley for their movies to make the list.

    • mark f

      “Schindler . . . Schindler . . . why do I know that name?”

      “They made a movie about me. It won Best Picture at the Oscars!”

      “Ah, that’s right! What was it about again?”

      “Oh, I saved a bunch of Jews during the Holocaust.”

      “Yeah, that’s sounds right. Good for you, man, good for you. Hey, Steven Spielberg! So what’s he like?”

      • Bill Murray

        I prefer Raoul Wallenberg as a hero and liked “Good Evening Mr. Wallenberg”

    • solidcitizen

      Is there a reason you left off Amadeus(#343)?

      I ask out of genuine curiosity, as there has been no mention of the film at all in this whole thread.

      • SEK

        Is there a reason you left off Amadeus?

        The frame narrative with Salieri is explicitly fictional, as is the feud between him and Mozart. In short, it’s not even trying to be accurate, it’s investigating the nature of genius and pathos of squandered talent.

        • Right, and the fact that so many people take it to be somewhat true is another issue with bio-pics that may get more attention here.

    • Hogan

      Aguirre?

      • snarkout

        Lope de Aguirre, an actual conquistador who attempted to crown himself prince of Peru and was eventually killed by mercenaries in the service of the Spanish crown. (Kaspar Hauser is the more notable weird name on the list, given that basically every single thing we know about his life except for the few years he lived in Nuremberg is pure speculation.)

        • John

          Don’t the various Kaspar Hauser movies focus on the few years he lived in Nuremberg? What’s puzzling about that movie is that Hauser, who died at age 21, is portrayed by a 42 year old actor.

          • snarkout

            John — I can’t speak for any of the non-Herzog movies, but “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” begins with the imprisoned Hauser. The whole movie takes all of Hauser’s claims at face value, pretty much. Which is fine — it’s a Herzog movie, not a term paper.

    • LKS

      Thus proving, once again, that such lists are based more on name recognition than actual merit.

      • John

        The TSPDT list is based on aggregating critical lists. It’s pretty good, as such lists go.

    • burritoboy

      Young Mr. Lincoln and The Rise to Power of Louis XIV aren’t biopics so much as dramatizations of very short periods of the historical figures’ lives.

  • CJColucci

    How about an Aaron Burr biopic?

  • People v. Larry Flynt
    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Howard Ford
    Tucker

  • “W” by Oliver Stone was pretty good.

    • Malaclypse
        • Malaclypse

          How many talking moose were in Z? I think the superior film is obvious.

          • LKS

            Being young and stupid at the time, I went to see Z because I thought it was about Zorro.

      • “X” was pretty good also but the sequel “XI” was a major flop.

    • Bill Murray

      I vote M as the best letter movie. Peter Lorre is great, and Spielberg totally stole the red coat thing in Schindler’s List from Fritz Lang

      • M is better than Z in the end, but Z is a pretty amazing film too.

        • Srynerson

          Z is a great movie, but it suffers from the unfortunately homophobic portrayal of one of the conspirators. I’m hesitant to recommend the film to people because of those scenes.

  • I missed a great one.
    “Path to War”
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0218505/

  • Lee

    John at 73, now I know that Hollywood loathes
    using unconventionally attractive women but this
    really suspends disbelief.

  • Dr.BDH

    I guess you could sum up this thread as, “Some people like movies (and music) that some other people don’t.”

    But to return to the original idea of making a Hamilton biopic: films get made when someone decides they can make some money off of said film. Whether that film is then “good” or “bad” to any one viewer isn’t as important to the decision of making it as whether sufficient people will pay money to watch it. I doubt a Hamilton biopic would get optioned. Maybe if it had zombies.

    • Richard

      Sometimes its a little more complicated than that. Warner Brothers lets Soderburgh and Clooney make moves that no one believes will make money so that they will agree to make more Oceans 11 movies where lots of money will be made, more than making up for Soderbergh and Clooney’s vanity projects.

      But you’re right about Hamilton. A studio has to believe that investing 50 million or more in a movie about Hamilton is likely to recoup that investment. And unless Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp will be playing Hamilton, I think that is a very bad bet.

      • firefall

        Well if you want rakish and daring, then Johnny Depp might fit the role .. so long as you dont mind him being deeply odd at some point :)

        • LosGatosCA

          Deeply odd leading up to the duel could be good. Could also work at other times as well.

  • Not sure on how accurate it was but Amadeus was pretty awesome!

    • Richard

      Entire plot premise was inaccurate (but still a very enjoyable movie)

  • Bill Murray

    I think Joseph Warren is a better candidate for a biopic.

    One of the leaders of what has been called the First American Revolution (http://www.amazon.com/First-American-Revolution-Lexington-ebook/dp/B0053Q1UM8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1321578573&sr=8-2),

    dispatched Revere et al. to Lexington and Concord and led troops to battle their,

    died with his boots on at Bunker Hill, choosing to fight as a private at the place he felt he was most needed rather than be the commanding general

  • Steven Soderbergh might do a bang-up job, but I’d go with Steven Silver, he did a great job in “The Bang Bang Club” of showing both the extraordinary talent and human frailty of his characters. It doesn’t have to be a Steven, though.

  • What? No Bonnie and Clyde?

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