Please Hollywood, Don’t Do This.

ABC News is reporting that the much-fabled Jeff Buckley biopic that has been in the works for, well, what seems like longer than Jeff Buckley’s actual music career, has its choice of who is to play Jeff Buckley narrowed down to two actors: James Franco and Robert Pattinson.

Let me admit that I am skeptical of this report. First, it’s inaccurate as it seems to imply that “Hallelujah” was released posthumously, which is false. “Hallelujah” is on Grace (Track 6), released in 1994, while Jeff Buckley was still alive. Second, rumors of this film have been floating around for years. Third, I don’t want to believe it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against either of these actors. From the little I know about acting and the work of theirs I have seen, I think either could portray Jeff Buckley. James Franco is certainly a dead-ringer for him, and Robert Pattinson definitely has the hair for it. Of course if the singing is not dubbed, then all bets are off. They’d have to have a Grace-off, winner take the role.

But Hollywood, don’t do this, don’t make another biopic about a great and fabled musician.

I know Walk the Line and Ray were successful at the box office.  But we don’t need this.  We don’t need the speculation of who Jeff Buckley was as a person.  Musicians already leave part of themselves, part of their soul, for us in their work.[1] Why can’t we just let that be good enough?

There is already a lot of mystique surrounding Jeff Buckley because he died young and tragically; because he only completed one studio album in his lifetime; because his musician father also died young and tragically.  But we don’t need to see this on film.  We don’t need our voyeurism to go this far.  The unspoken motto of so many industries in this country seems to be: “When all else fails, profit from death.”  But we don’t have to exploit death like this.

Hollywood, I’m going to do you a favor and give you some guidelines of the only three cases in which biopics are acceptable:

1) The non-biopic. I loved Velvet Goldmine, I don’t know if another soul on the planet loved Velvet Goldmine, but I did.  And it’s not really a biopic, oh sure, some events are loosely based on the real lives of some musicians in the glam rock scene in the 70s, but so many quaaludes and amphetamines have been taken since then, who really knows what happened.  Instead, Velvet Goldmine is a biopic of a place and time and genre, not a person, and this works.  See also: Hoosiers.

2) The historical-biopic. A television show like The Tudors[2] kind of works because no one really knows anything about the people they are portraying.  We know the history of Henry VIII, but we don’t really know anything about Henry VIII as a person, so there’s a lot of room for speculative interpretation, and so long as it’s plausible and done well, it can work (until people start relying on such films for history lessons). This usually works best for certain periods between the Middle Ages and the 19th century. We don’t need biopics that take place in the 1990s yet, not while copies of Singles still exist.

3) The character-biopic. Think about Jim Carey as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.  This was a great portrayal of a real person, from the 20th century, and someone who left behind much of his creative work.  So why does it work?  Because Andy Kaufman kind of already was a movie character in real life, his real life could have been fiction.  Now, this is the touchiest category because it requires some subjective determination of who qualifies as a semi-fictional character and who does not.  But odds are there are going to be very few of these people, because most people take themselves too seriously or take themselves seriously in the wrong way.  See also: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

So Hollywood, it’s hard enough to make a good movie, and there are so many terrible biopics out there,[3] sometimes you could check and make sure you aren’t just exploiting someone because they were a tortured soul.  And if you still insist on proceeding, please consider the possibility that a documentary might be better.

[1] Of course, I’m talking about good music here.  I don’t think Bruce Willis gave us part of his soul in The Return of Bruno.  I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Bruce Willis did release an album.
[2] Which, incidentally, like Velvet Goldmine also stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Maybe he should play Jeff Buckley.
[3] Finding Neverland, A Beautiful Mind, W, Marie Antoinette, The Doors, Lorenzo’s Oil, Dangerous Minds, Selena, Patch Adams, The Cat’s Meow, Domino, Valkyrie, and so on.

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