Biographies are always bittersweet. If the herald a hero, it is too painful to realise their fleeting life; if the portrayal is full of tragedies and challenges then to watch that get chronicled is a punch in the gut. Biographies romanticise and normalise in equal measure, so when biographies are about musicians it is entirely a roller-coaster ride. There is meteoric success, love, loss, camaraderie, despair, loneliness, and then a screeching climax of the legacy they sought to build.
Here are 15 movies about musicians which traverse the path of authenticity and accuracy all the while forcing the audience to look at their heroes with a pinch of reality, away from the heroic fantasy.
1. Walk The Line
Based on the life of singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, this movie charters Cash’s life before his singing career, and his iconic love story with June Carter. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, this film garnered 5 Oscar nominations with Witherspoon winning best actress for the portrayal of Carter.
2. La Bamba
Ritchie Valens’ success was thundering and quick, one that made him the center of attention for a lot of reasons, including intra-family jealousies. The movie La Bamba, named after Valens’ superhit song, talks about his life as a young boy of Mexican – American heritage, falling in love, being the object of his half brother’s chagrin, and eventually of his untimely death. The day of his death, a plane crash that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, came to be known in the pop-culture world as the “Day The Music Died” – which was further mentioned by Don McLean in the hit song, Bye Bye Miss American Pie.
Considered as one of the best movies of all time, this Academy Award winning film chronicles the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, albeit with a fictionalised stance. The movie follows Mozart’s professional rivarly with Antonio Salieri.
There is a rarely a more tragic end to a young life than Selena’s. The singer, became an American sensation, with singer Jennifer Lopez portraying her with haunting aplomb. Selena’s life was cut short in the most devastating way, but her legacy as the Queen of Tejano Music has stayed alive to this date.
5. Bohemian Rhapsody
Rami Malek in his Oscar winning portrayal of Queen singer Freddie Mercury. The movie is a look at Mercury’s life from the very beginning of the band’s formation, to their last concert before Mercury’s death.
The film titled after Elton John’s song from 1972, is a biography on the very flamboyant and legendary life of Elton John. It follows his early days as a musical prodigy, his partnership with Beau Taupin, his substance abuse problem, and his eventual sobriety.
7. Sid and Nancy
It portrays the life of singer Sid Vicious, of the band Sex Pistols and his very volatile relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen, ultimately leading to her death, and him spiraling endlessly into a vortex of substance abuse and depression up until his death of a heroine overdose.
8. The Doors
There’s hardly been a musical icon of the stature of Jim Morrison. The movie documents the life of Morrison as the lead singer of the band The Doors. His life’s story that goes through the path of drug use, rock and roll, psychedelia – is a gritty watch as we see actor Val Kilmer bring Morrison to life once again.
This film is a biography of legendary singer Ray Charles. Portrayed by Jamie Foxx, his portrayal receiving the Academy Award, this movie is a tribute to the veteran Rhythm and Blues singer who was blinded at the age of seven but with the help of his mother carved a niche for himself despite the challenge.
10. The Pianist
The Pianist follows the story of a Polish musician during the Holocaust, who is not willing to go of his passion even in times of such peril. Wladyslaw spent time in concentration camps, was separated from his family and also lived life in hiding and the only thing that kept him sane was the notes of the piano. The classical composition that follows the movie through out gains grace and urgency in the most melodious way.
11. La Vie En Rose
La Vie En Rose beautifully shows us the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf. The film has fashioned an emotionally powerful screen portrait of the French Singer whose voice was called the ‘soul of Paris’. The original recordings of Piaf’s voice in this classic biopic beautifully embrace a lifetime of struggle and triumph.