Friday, May 14, 2010

Bits Versus The Whole Thing

Here's another common place post I'll post here. It ran in the December 2004 issue of Esquire magazine. Unfortunately, I forgot to note the author:

The bigger problem with Great Man biopics, though, involves dramatic structure, or rather its inevitable absence. Simply put, real people's lives don't conform to narrative expectation. They tend to be random and discursive. And then this happened and then that happened, and so on. It's not a problem is you're telling the Joe Blow story, since only historians and the Blow family will object to the necessary omissions and distortions. When the subject is famous, though, there are always at least a dozen defining episodes that have to be included -- you can't make Pollock (a movie about the abstract expressionist painter) without showing him looking down curiously at some paint he just spelled -- and some the movie becomes little more than a rickety frame supporting those episodes. That's why the finest biopic yet made is Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, an obscure Canadian picture (though it somehow formed the basis for an entire episode of The Simpsons) that presents the pianist's life as a kaleidoscopic jumble of glancing, isolated moments, few of any real significance. At the end of the movie, you got a tiny glimpse of the man. But that glimpse is more than most biopics offer.

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