The Door To Yesterday. Vol 3, No 15
Alan Warner. 2019.

 

 

 

History Making Movies. The World Of Musical Biopics. The door to yesterday. Alan Warner.

 With the success of ROCKETMAN (the Elton John story) and BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

 (the history of Freddie Mercury & Queen) and to a lesser degree GREEN BOOK 

(about classical & jazz pianist Don Shirley), biographical motion pictures chronicling 

the histories of musical artists are once again becoming a highly credible source of movie material. 

This also applies to small screen productions as evidenced in the recent TV mini-series

AMERICAN SOUL which related the story of the founder of ‘Soul Train’, Don Cornelius.


When you’re watching Rami Malek’s stunning visual performance as Freddie Mercury in

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, you’re mainly hearing Freddie’s own four-octave vocals. 

By contrast, when audiences see Taron Egerton portraying Elton John in ROCKETMAN

they hear Taron’s own vocals.


That is a perfect example of the dichotomy that exists in musical biopics. 

On one hand, other actors utilized original vocals of the artists they portrayed; these included

 Jessica Lange who lip-synced to Patsy Cline’s original vocal recordings in SWEET DREAMS, 

Jamie Foxx who lip-synced to Ray Charles’ recordings in RAY

Dennis Quaid who mimed to Jerry Lee Lewis’  hits in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE,

 Chadwick Boseman who lip-synced to James Brown in GET ON UP

Jennifer Lopez who mimed to Selena’s recordings in SELENA,

 Susan Hayward who lip-synched to  Jane Froman’s vocals in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART 

and Angela Bassett who mimed to Tina Turner’s vocals in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT.  


On the other side of the coin of course, there were many performers who used their own vocals such as Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES, Doris Day asRuth Etting in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, Gary Busey as Buddy Holly in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams in I SAW THE LIGHT, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli in JERSEY BOYS, David Carradine as Woody Guthrie in BOUND FOR GLORY, Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE, James Cagney as George M. Cohan in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, Beyoncé as Etta James in CADILLAC RECORDS and Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL.  


It’s also worth remembering that biopics often play fast and loose with historical facts. For example, Rolling Stone magazine have listed a number of inaccuracies that occur inROCKETMAN such as in the film’s recreation of Elton’s triumphant 1970 appearance at the Troubadour here in Los Angeles; in that sequence, Taron Egerton as Elton singsCROCODILE ROCK even though that song wasn’t written until two years later. A similar tune appearing out of chronological sequence occurred 63 years earlier in THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY when in a scene following the death of Benny’s father in 1926,Gordon Jenkins’ melody GOODBYE is played even though it wasn’t published until 1935.


  The following is a checklist of just fifty-five of the many musical biopics released in the years prior to 2018:

American Hot Wax. the Door To Yesterday.

 AMERICAN HOT WAX 

(Paramount: 1978) 

Dir: Floyd Mutrux. 

Starring Tim McIntire as DJ Alan Freed. 

Cast included 

Kenny Vance & The Planotones, 

Artie Ripp, Richard Perry,

 Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis 

& Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. 


BACKBEAT

 (Gramercy: 1994)

 Dir: Ian Softley. 

Starring Sheryl Lee as Astrid Kirchherr, 

Stephen Dorff as Stuart Sutcliffe, 

Ian Hart as John Lennon, 

Gary Bakewell as Paul McCartney,

 Chris O’Neill as George Harrison 

& Scot Williams as Pete Best. 


BEHIND THE CANDELABRA 

(HBO TV Movie: 2013) Dir: Steven Soderbergh.

 Starring Michael Douglas as Liberace,

 Matt Damon as Scott Thorson

 & Scott Bakula as Bob Black 

with Debbie Reynolds as Frances Liberace.


THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY

 (Universal: 1956) 

Dir: Valentine Davies. 

Starring Steve Allen as Benny Goodman.

BIRD. A film by Clint Eastwood. The Door to Yesterday. Alan Warner.

BIRD (Warner Bros: 1988) Dir: Clint Eastwood. Starring Forest Whitaker as jazz alto sax player Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.


BIRTH OF THE BEATLES 

(Dick Clark Prods: 1979) 

Dir: Richard Marquand. 

Starring Stephen MacKenna as John,

 Rod Culbertson as Paul, 

John Altman as George 

and Ray Ashcroft as Ringo.

 

BORN TO BE BLUE

 (IFC: 2016) 

Dir: Robert Budreau. 

Starring Ethan Hawke 

as jazz trumpeter & singer Chet Baker.


BOUND FOR GLORY (United Artists: 1976) Dir: Hal Ashby. Starring David Carradine as Woody Guthrie.  Trailer on YouTube:

 https://youtu.be/gNled6wh18c


THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY

 (Columbia: 1978) 

Dir: Steve Rash. 

Starring Gary Busey as Buddy Holly.

 Extract available on Vimeo. 


CADILLAC RECORDS 

(Sony: 2008) Dir: Darnell Martin. 

The story of Chess Records 

starring Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, 

Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters,

 Beyoncé as Etta James

 & Cedric The Entertainer as Willie Dixon. 


CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC

 (EMI/AFD: 1980) 

Dir: Nancy Walker. 

The supposed story of the Village People.

Coal Miner’s Daugher and The Five Pennies Movie Posters. The Door To Yesterday.

 COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER 

(Universal: 1980) 

Dir: Michael Apted. 

Starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn

 and Tommy Lee Jones as Doolittle Lynn 

with Beverly D’Angelo as Patsy Cline.


DEADMAN’S CURVE 

(TV movie: 1978) 

Dir: Richard Compton. 

Starring Richard Hatch as Jan Berry 

& Bruce Davison as Dean Torrence 

w/Dick Clark, Wolfman Jack.


ELVIS 

(TV movie: 1979) 

Dir: John Carpenter.

 Starring Kurt Russell as Elvis Presley 

with Shelley Winters as Gladys Presley

Season Hubley as Priscilla Presley 

and Pat Hingle as Colonel Tom Parker.

  Elvis’s vocals were recorded by Ronnie McDowell.


THE FABULOUS DORSEYS 

(United Artists: 1947) 

Dir: Alfred E. Green. 

Starring 

Tommy Dorsey & Jimmy Dorsey as themselves.


THE FIVE PENNIES 

(Paramount: 1959) 

Dir: Melville Shavelson. 

Starring Danny Kaye as jazz cornetist & bandleader Red Nichols 

and featuring Bob Hope and Louis Armstrong. 


FUNNY GIRL

Columbia: 1968

Dir: William Wyler. 

Starring 

Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice. 

Also Omar Sharif as Nick Arnstein 

and Walter Pidgeon as Florenz Ziegfeld.


THE GENE KRUPA STORY aka DRUM CRAZY 

Columbia: 1959

 Dir: Don Weis

Starring Sal Mineo as jazz drummer Gene Krupa. 

Sal Mineo mimed to Gene Krupa’s drum playing. 

Trailer on YouTube: 

https://youtu.be/6MY24t3c6-I

GET ON UP...the story of James Brown

 GET ON UP 

(Universal: 2014) 

Dir: Tate Taylor. 

Starring 

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown

 and Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd.


THE GLENN MILLER STORY

 (Universal: 1954)

 Dir: Anthony Mann.

 Starring

James Stewart as Glenn Miller 

and June Allyson as Helen Burger.


GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! 

(Orion: 1989)

 Dir: Jim McBride, 

Starring 

Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis.

I SAW THE LIGHT. The Door To Yesterday. 2019.

I SAW THE LIGHT 

(Sony: 2015) 

Dir: Marc Abraham. 

Starring Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams 

and Elizabeth Olsen as Audrey Williams. 

Trailer on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/1Rp3yup-qe4


I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS 

(Warner Bros: 1951) 

Dir: Michael Curtiz

Starring 

Danny Thomas as songwriter Gus Khan 

& Doris Day as Grace LeBoy Kahn.


I’M NOT THERE

 (Weinstein: 2007) 

Dir: Todd Haynes. 

Six incarnations of Bob Dylan 

starring

 Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw,

 Christian Bale & Richard Gere. 

Kris Kristofferson provides the narration.


JERSEY BOYS 

(Warner Bros: 2014) 

Dir: Clint Eastwood. 

The story of the Four Seasons

 starring John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli 

and Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio. 


JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE 

(Open Road: 2014)

 Dir: John Ridley. 

Starring 

Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix.

Chicago and Lady Sings The Blues Sheet Msic and Poster. The Door To Yesterday.

THE JOKER IS WILD (Paramount: 1957) 

Dir: Charles Vidor.

Starring 

Frank Sinatra as singer/comedian Joe E. Lewis.


THE JOLSON STORY 

(Columbia: 1946) 

Dir: Alfred E. Green. 

Starring Larry Parks as Al Jolson. 

This film was so successful that a sequel titled JOLSON SINGS AGAIN

followed three years later with Larry Parks repeating the role of Jolson.


LA BAMBA

 (Columbia: 1987) 

Dir: Luis Valdez. 

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips 

as Ritchie Valens.

 Ritchie Valens’ songs were performed by Los Lobos; 

their lead singer David Hildago ghosted Lou Diamond’s vocals. 

Trailer on YouTube: 

https://youtu.be/6wRCCUVT5jE


LA VIE EN ROSE 

(Picturehouse: 2007) 

Dir: Olivier Dahan. 

Starring 

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf.


LADY SINGS THE BLUES

 (Paramount: 1972) 

Dir: Sidney J. Furie

 Starring 

Diana Ross as Billie Holiday.


LOVE AND MERCY 

(Roadside Attractions: 2014)

 Dir: Bill Pohlad.

 Starring 

John Cusack and Paul Dano both as Brian Wilson 

with Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy. 

Vocals by Paul Dano.


LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME 

(MGM: 1955) 

Dir: Charles Vidor. 

Starring 

Doris Day as 20’s & 30’s singer Ruth Etting 

& James Cagney as Martin Snyder.

MIles Ahead. The Miles Davis Story.

 MILES AHEAD 

(Sony Pictures Classic: 2015) 

Dir: Don Cheadle

 Starring 

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis.


NIGHT AND DAY 

(Warner Bros: 1946) 

Dir: Michael Curtiz. 

Starring 

Cary Grant as songwriter Cole Porter. 


NINA (RLJ: 2016) 

Dir: Cynthia Mort. 

Starring 

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. 


NOWHERE BOY 

(Weinstein: 2010) 

Dir: Sam Taylor-Wood

Starring 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as John Lennon.

Ray. the Ray Charles Story.

 RAY

 (Universal: 2004) 

Dir: Taylor Hackford

 Starring 

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles.


RHAPSODY IN BLUE 

(Warner Bros: 1945)

 Dir: Irving Rapper

Starring 

Robert Alda as composer & pianist George Gershwin 

with Joan Leslie as singer Julie Adams.

 Robert Alda’s piano playing was

 dubbed by Oscar Levant.  

(Fyi, Robert Alda was the father of Alan Alda).


ROCK AROUND THE WORLD 

(American International: 1957)

 Original UK Title:THE TOMMY STEELE STORY

 Dir: Gerard Bryant

 Starring 

Tommy Steele as Tommy Steele 

with Humphrey Lyttleton, Chas McDevitt 

& Nancy Whiskey as themselves


THE RUNAWAYS 

(Apparition: 2010) 

Dir: Floria Sigismondi

 The story of the all-girl rock band. Starring 

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, 

Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie 

& Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley.


SELENA 

(Warner Bros: 1997) 

Dir: Gregory Nana

 Starring 

Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla.

 

SID AND NANCY. The Door To Yesterday.
Alan Warner

 SID AND NANCY 

(New Line: 1986) 

Dir: Alex Cox

 Starring 

Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious 

and Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen.


ST. LOUIS BLUES 

(Paramount: 1958) 

Dir: Allen Reisner. 

Starring 

Nat ‘King’ Cole as blues songwriter/musician W.C. Handy. Also featuring Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson.


STAR! 

(20th Century Fox: 1968) 

Dir: Robert Wise

 Starring 

Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence

 with Daniel Massey as Noel Coward.


STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

 (Universal: 2015)

 Dir: F. Gary Gray. 

The story of N.W.A. 

Starring 

O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, 

Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre 

and Jason Mitchell as Easy-E.


SWEET DREAMS

 (TriStar: 1985) 

Dir: Karel Reisz

 Starring 

Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline.


THREE LITTLE WORDS 

(MGM: 1950)

 Dir: Richard Thorpe. 

Starring 

Fred Astaire as songwriter Bert Kalmar 

and Red Skelton as his songwriting partner Harry Ruby. 

Featuring Debbie Reynolds as singer Helen Kane.


TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY

 (MGM: 1946) 

Dir: Richard Whorf

Starring 

Robert Walker as songwriter Jerome Kern 

and featuring an all-star cast including

 June Allyson, Judy Garland, Lena Horne 

and Frank Sinatra.

 

TWO OF US

 (TV movie: 2000)

 Dir: Michael Lindsay-Hogg

 Starring 

Aidan Quinn as Paul McCartney 

and Jared Harris as John Lennon.

I Walk The Line. The Door to Yesterday.

 WALK THE LINE 

(20th Century Fox: 2005) 

Dir: James Mangold

 Starring 

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash 

and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.


WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT (Buena Vista: 1993) 

Dir: Brian Gibson

 

Starring Angela Bassett as Tina Turner and Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner.


WITH A SONG IN MY HEART (20th Century Fox: 1952) Dir: Walter Lang. Starring Susan Hayward as Jane Froman. 


WORDS AND MUSIC (MGM: 1948) 

Dir: Norman Taurog

Starring Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart 

and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers


YANKEE DOODLE DANDY 

(Warner Bros: 1942) 

Dir: Michael Curtiz.


Starring James Cagney 

as performer/songwriter/showman

 George M. Cohan. 


YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART 

(MGM: 1964)

 Dir: Gene Nelson


 Starring 

George Hamilton as Hank Williams.

 Hank Williams’ vocals were by Hank Williams Jr.  


One final interesting footnote: 


In 1950, Warner Bros. released the film

 YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN

 starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, 

Doris Day and Hoagy Carmichael;

it was a fictious story with Kirk Douglas

 portraying a jazz trumpeter. 

As such it’s not strictly a biopic

 although the screenplay was based on

 a novel which was supposedly inspired by 

the life of the 1920’s and 1930’s 

jazz cornet legend Bix Beiderbecke. 


Rock on.


Alan Warner


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