Opinion

One by one the wild men of rock are being captured in biopics. Elvis is next

Prepare for an onslaught as Hollywood follows up the success of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'Rocketman' with movies telling the life stories of musical icons

07 July 2019 - 00:05 By
Taron Egerton as Elton John in 'Rocketman'.
Taron Egerton as Elton John in 'Rocketman'.
Image: Supplied

There's an epidemic going on - and I like it! With the huge success of Bryan Singer's Bohemian Rhapsody last year, there were bound to be more of the same - musical biopics charting the course (often sordid, always touching) of some yob's ascent to stardom, their struggle to contain it, inevitable fall from grace and eventual (though sometimes tragic) redemption.

It's art imitating life in its purest form - a ready-made plot with the attendant tunes to make audiences weak at the knees.

And since when has Hollywood ever let a successful formula fade gently into the sunset? Prepare for an onslaught.

Hot on the heels of Freddy Mercury's award-winning life-story-turned-celluloid fodder, for which Rami Malek won the Best Actor Oscar last year, followed Lee Hall's Rocketman, a film with awe-inspiring dance sequences, long panning camera shots that last whole scenes, fabulous performances from every member of the cast and songs ready-made for a musical. With Elton John himself as one of the executive producers, even he was assured of being enamoured with the final result.

WATCH | The trailer for 'Rocketman'.

Now Baz Luhrmann is getting in on the act with his planned Elvis Presley biopic. Casting for the lead role has begun and Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Austin Butler, Harry Styles, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are on the short list (Tom Hanks has already been cast as Col Tom Parker, Presley's manager).

I can't wait to see the final film, despite the fact that I already know the story: star rises, star gets sidetracked by success, drink, drugs, women (the rock'n'roll curse) and unsavoury hangers-on, star finds love, star looks for redemption … but it's too late.

A similar story was told in Walk The Line about Johnny Cash, which was a box- office hit and won Reese Witherspoon the Best Actress Oscar for her role as June Carter in 2006.

Val Kilmer played Jim Morrison in the 1991 hit The Doors; Hank Williams's life became another opportunity to retell the story in 2015's I Saw The Light; and James Brown's story was portrayed in 2014 in Get On Up, produced by Mick Jagger, who will, no doubt, soon have his own biopic to share with the grandkids.

Bruce Springsteen bucked the trend by producing a Broadway show about his life - but sure enough, the film will soon follow.

I'm glad that these stories are being made into film. The latest lot of them mark the end of an era — namely, the era of the old white, male, drug-abusing, fast-living, stadium-filling, groupie-abusing, strutting, strumming rock star, equally at home on the stage, often half drunk or drugged out in front of millions with just a guitar or a piano and his voice, as he was fronting a million-dollar-production stage and crew. These old men thought they could change the world with a few chords and the truth. Now the whole world is changing around them.

In the rock'n'roll universe, if you make it past 27, you get a good long innings

Elton John's Farewell Tour is currently under way. Over the duration of three years he'll perform more than 300 shows across five continents, ending in early 2021. When the tour ends he'll be 74 years old. Mick Jagger is almost 76. In the rock'n'roll universe, if you make it past 27, you get a good long innings, but it's still clear that they're at the end of theirs.

Now that music is so easy to make, readily available and as easy to play and share, there isn't really one definitive genre that will fill the rock-shaped hole that's left behind when these old codgers finally shuffle off this mortal coil.

There will be other great songs with good lyrics, innovative production, strong clear voices that lift our spirits and bring us together and make the human spirit soar in unison. Isn't that what they meant by rock'n'roll anyway?

In the meantime we can be touched by these nostalgic stories as they unfold in the darkness of the cinema to the sound of us chomping on popcorn and slurping on Coke.


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