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MUSIC BIOPICS

Updated: Mar 31, 2022


Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #1

Last night’s movie was The United States vs. Billie Holiday starring Andra Day and Trevante Rhodes. Directed by Lee Daniels.

Well shit. I was really looking forward to this one, but it let me down on a number of levels. As many good elements as there are in this flick, there are 10 that ruin it. What a bummer.

It’s a fictionalized story about some real life events that happened during the 1940’s and 1950’s (with some backstory scenes in the 30’s) regarding Billie Holiday’s struggle with drugs, racism, and the US government. It tries to center the story around Holiday’s anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” which is a killer idea for a premise, but fails to deliver. It’s too bad as this could have been a truly powerful statement of social commentary but gets in its own way with its over indulgent film making.

Here’s the biggest problem…Why on earth would they fictionalize such an amazing story? In my mind, the actual history of Billie Holiday (or William as Count Basie called her :) and jazz itself is so rich and interesting that to fictionalize it is sacrilegious. OH! And I always thought that Lester Young was so much cooler than the way Tyler James Williams played him.

Now, what makes this even more of a shame, is that it wastes an incredible performance by Andra Day as Billie Holiday. Holy shit this woman is good. Her portrayal of Lady Day is elegant when she needs to be, fragile, forceful, and all around bad ass. She was in firm control of her character and must be PISSED that the end result was what it ended up being. She totally deserves her Best Actress nomination for an Oscar this year.

Andra Day’s performance does make this worth watching, But I’m still only giving 2 Mics to The United States vs. Billie Holiday 🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be The Runaways. ♥️You.

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #2

Last night’s movie was The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi.

In 1981 when Joan Jett (The Coolest Person In America) released “I Love Rock and Roll”, I bought the 45 and listened to it 1000 times jumping on my bed with my air guitar tennis racket. Then later, I saw the video and fell completely in love.

And then, years later, she cemented her status as the Coolest by acknowledging The Gits singer, Mia Zapata’s murder in Seattle and joining The Gits, going by the name Evil Stig (Gits Live spelled backwards). They made a record and did benefit shows to fund the investigation of Zapata’s murder.

This flick is a biopic of JJ’s 1st band, The Runaways, focusing mostly on singer Cherie Currie (Fanning) and Joan Jett herself (Stewart). As teenagers around 15 years old, they form their band with the guidance of super creepy band manager, Kim Fowley (played sleazily by Michael Shannon). Fowley does a good job of getting them to practice, form their image and attitude, getting them signed and getting them on the road.

The story arcs of these music biopics are pretty much all the same, artist starting out, gaining momentum, catching fire, enjoying fame too much and then burning out. This one is no different, however, it’s done better than most. I loved how much time this flick spent on the band’s development. And when they find success, I felt like I was right there with them like I was their younger brother saying goodbye when they left on their 1st tour. The excitement, the energy, the sorrow and the music…it was all played off so well.

And then there’s Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. She pulled that off so perfectly that I want to see her do Part 2, all of the shit that Jett does after The Runaways.

There was a bit of an “after school special” feel about this (except for the naughty parts) that cheapened it up a bit, but I still loved it. 4 Mics for The Runaways 🎤🎤🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be Patsy & Loretta. ♥️You

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #3

Last night’s movie was Patsy & Loretta starring Megan Hilty and Jessie Mueller. Directed by Callie Khouri

I selected this flick for this series because I LOVE Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. And I’ve been down a 10 year Patsy Cline rabbit hole as I get to be the piano player for a show called “Sweet Dreams, The Music of Patsy Cline” every September, here in Seattle. The incredible music that she recorded is, in my mind, some of the greatest in American History. And if you don’t love Loretta Lynn, then you must be a Putin loving heartless psychopath.

This movie is about the tragically short but incredibly powerful friendship of Patsy and Loretta from 1961 until Patsy’s death in 1963. Loretta (Mueller) was a mother of 4 who was getting her music career started playing honky-tonks while Patsy (Hilty) was a mother of 2 children and was already a big star. While recovering in the hospital from a car accident, Patsy hears Loretta performing “I Fall to Pieces” (my favorite) on the radio. So she summons Loretta to her hospital room where they hit it off and Patsy takes her under her wing.

The result is a truly close and loving friendship that is so touching and inspiring. The way Patsy shows Loretta the ropes of the music business, through strength with a velvet fist, is super bad ass and makes me love her even more. And it’s heartbreakingly awesome how their bond gets them through the more difficult parts of life, like trying to be good mothers and wives (even though their husbands could be such assholes. Especially Loretta’s).

And just when things are going really well for the both of them, Patsy is killed in a plane crash. It hurt so bad watching this, where I felt the pain of not only Loretta, but her children and husband as well. Damn! I wish she were still alive making music.

The fact that Hilty and Mueller did their own singing of their character’s old classics made this even more enjoyable. Their performances were so good and I especially want to see more Megan Hilty flicks. 5 Mics for Patsy and Loretta 🎤🎤🎤🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be Respect. ♥️You

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #4

Last night’s movie was Respect starring Jennifer Hudson♥️ and Forest Whitaker. Directed by Liesl Tommy

If you wanna cry like a little cry baby during a movie, then this flick is for you. Especially in the 1st part where we go through some of Aretha’s loving yet troubled childhood.

Let me back up here, this film is a biopic of The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin from when she was about 10 years old, in 1952 until around 1969. It begins in her affluent father’s (Whitaker) house where he’s throwing a star studded party and brilliantly performs for the guests. Her father is a prominent preacher in Detroit and an attentive dad but is also overly controlling and emotionally abusive. An early childhood scene also depicts how she had been sexually abused at a young age by an unknown perpetrator. 10 year old Aretha is played by Skye Dakota Turner who is unbelievably awesome. She shows all of the emotion of childhood while also being an immensely talented singer and student of music. She perfectly shows the range of a mischievous child to the agony of losing her mother at such a young age.

We then watch her grow into a professional musician by getting signed to Columbia Records and then dropped, and then resurrecting her career with the help of Jerry Wexler (played by the excellently cast Marc Maron) and The Swampers of Muscle Shoals. We then watch her become famous and deal with a slew of difficulties including her asshole husband Ted, alcohol and ego problems, and the death of MLK.

I want to get into this Muscle Shoals business. I was wondering if and how the filmmakers were going to address this and they didn’t disappoint. The scene where she meets The Swampers and they begin to jam out “I Never Loved a Man The Way That I Loved You” is unforgettable.

Which brings us to the music. Jennifer Hudson is a Goddess. The treatment that she and all of the other musicians bring to the music of Aretha Franklin was done with such care and style that it’s one of the many things that made me such a cry baby throughout this flick. 5 Mics for Respect 🎤🎤🎤🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be 8 Mile. ♥️You

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #5

Last night’s movie was 8 Mile starring The Real Slim Shady and Kim Basinger. Directed by Curtis Hanson.

I went into this with kind of a bad attitude. I really love Eminem but I guess I didn’t trust that he would be a very good actor. I was kind of wrong. He was actually really great at playing himself, but I doubt he could do any other role.

This is a semi biographical story of Eminem coming up as a young, white and talented rapper in a run down and predominantly black area of Detroit. He struggles with employment, chicks, self esteem, his mom’s (Basinger) dickhead boyfriend (Michael Shannon), and pretty much everything else. But he feels strongly about his art and is determined to succeed with it.

He has a group of friends that he hangs with. They raise hell and troll for tail after work, and at the end of the week they go to The Shelter, a place where a few hundred people go to watch rappers freestyle battle rap. This place is dingy and looks like it smells awful, but it’s perfect for what it is, where rappers earn their stripes. Eminem tries his hand at a battle but chickens out, earning him the reputation as a choke artist.

As we get deeper into this flick, a bunch of boring and depressing shit happens until the main event where Eminem grows a pair and re-enters the battle at The Shelter and “Hollywood Ends” it with a dominant performance against the neighborhood bully. (However, I do think he lost the semi final battle to Lotto)

The energy of the last Shelter scene is so killer in every way that it exposes the rest of the film as being pretty mediocre. 3 Mics for 8 Mile 🎤🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be La Vie En Rose. ♥️You.

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #6

Last night’s movie was La Vie En Rose starring Marion Cotillard and Pauline Burlet. Directed by Olivier Dahan.

Well, this is my favorite Music Biopic of this series so far. The biggest reason is Marion Cotillard’s performance as Edith Piaf, the famous French singer (1915-1963) whose song, “La Vie En Rose” was a big hit for her in France.

This flick jumps around the different eras of Piaf’s life, as opposed to being in chronological order. In the childhood segments, little Edith (Burlet) is basically abandoned by her parents. Her loser mother gives her up so she can pursue a life as an artist, and her dad, who is a soldier in WWI, gives her up to his mother, who is a madame at a brothel. This was actually not such a bad place for her as she is well cared for by one of the hookers named Titine (played by the SMOKIN hot Emmanuelle Seigner). However, her dad returns from the war and takes 9 year old Edith with him to join the circus. They become independent street performers and it’s discovered that she is a special singer. Some childhood, huh?

In the segments that feature grown-up Edith, we see her navigate her singing career complete with drugs, lots of alcohol, lots of men, tragedy and more tragedy, and some incredible music. As an adult, Piaf reminds me of a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Rivers. She’s a hard partier with a strong personality. She’s the kind of chick that, if she wants you to leave her room, she doesn’t ask if she can have some privacy for a moment, she just tells you to “get lost!”. I love that!

Of all of the powerful scenes in this, one stood out to me more that the rest. On the upswing of Edith’s career, she ends up being harshly coached by a next level composer/producer type named Raymond Asso (Marc Barbe) to sing more distinctly and express the music with her hands. This makes the hard headed Piaf uncomfortable but, because she is a bit desperate, she does what she’s told. Her next performance is the biggest of her career and she is petrified. When her performance begins, we don’t hear the music that they are performing, instead, an incredibly beautiful piece by Christopher Gunning is dubbed in while we watch her silently sing. I don’t know…It was some powerful shit.

By the way, this flick is almost entirely en francais so I hope you don’t mind sub-titles

Marion Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress and she totally deserved it. 5 Mics for La Vie En Rose 🎤🎤🎤🎤🎤. Tonights movie will be Selena. ♥️You

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #7

Last night’s movie was Selena starring Jennifer Lopez and Edward James Olmos. Written and directed by Gregory Nava

You guys…this flick SUUUUUCCCCKKKKEEEDDDD!!! I really haven’t hated a movie this much since I saw Miss Congeniality ( https://www.billydisaster.com/post/chick-flicks-ii-with-kelly-and-natalie) a few months ago.

This movie was like the worst, cheap ass Disney princess live action flick with maybe the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard. Some of the shit these actors had to say was so cringy that I threw up all over my kids. Multiple times.

It’s too bad, the story of Selena is pretty compelling. She grew up with a nice and loving family (except her dad could be a real prick sometimes) that sacrificed a lot in order to take chances on the music business. Along the way, a whole lot of REALLY boring shit happens but eventually Selena becomes successful until her business lady kills her in the end.

There was not a single good moment in this film. There are some actors that were so bad that they’re not even listed in the IMDB. I may go to hell for this but, I gotta say, this includes the kid that played young Selena who was probably so embarrassed by her performance that she had herself removed from the cast list.

I read that this was Gregory Nava’s 1st and only movie he’s ever written and directed and I can totally see why. 1 Mic for Selena 🎤. Tonight’s movie will be CBGB. ♥️You

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #8

Last night’s movie was CBGB starring Alan Rickman and Rupert Grint (is this Harry Potter?). Directed by Randall Miller

Am I crazy or am I just more sane than 93% of people that saw this flick? 7% on Rotten Tomatoes? And Selena got 67%? WHATEVER! This movie was 1,000,000,000 times better than Selena. Not that it was a masterpiece or anything, but it was pretty damn fun.

This tells the story of Hilly Kristal (Rickman) and his crew of down and outers who open and operate a run down bar/music venue and turn it into the legendary New York rock club, CBGB.

Kristal initially wanted to make it a country music and bluegrass venue (hence the name) but changed his course after he auditioned the band Television. What follows is a stream of new bands coming through including Talking Heads, Blondie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, The Police etc. which made for a killer soundtrack.

A side story that occurs is that a trio of punk kids start Punk Magazine, which coincides with the beginning of CBGB and covers the bands that play there. Most of the magazine is illustrated and this flick uses that to it’s advantage really well, giving it some cool comic book transitions. I love that shit.

At one point, Kristal decides he’s gonna go into the band management business by managing The Dead Boys, an abrasive punk band known for their classic “Sonic Reducer”. Problem is, Kristal is a shitty business man. He doesn’t suffer fools but also has a difficult time knowing who the fools are. But he is passionate about the new sound of the bands that play his club and is the kind of dude that will give chances to the most down trodden. He just has a hard time showing them any love.

Like I said, this is no masterpiece. But it doesn’t do anything poorly. It’s just a cool hang with some great music. 3 Mics for CBGB 🎤🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be Get On Up. ♥️You

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Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #9

Last night’s movie was Get On Up starring Chadwick Boseman and Dan Aykroyd. Directed by Tate Taylor

There are 2 things that are really great in this flick about James Brown. #1 is the music (duh). The rehearsal and concert recreations were super fucking cool. And #2 is the performance of Chadwick Boseman as The Godfather of Soul himself. At first it seemed like he was doing an impression of Eddie Murphy’s impression of James Brown, but ends up being just a killer version all his own. He ultimately plays an amazing JB complete with the signature dancing and singing.

Like many biopics, this one goes over many things from Brown’s childhood until late-ish in his career. You’ve got the drugs, women, jail, and various ups and downs. The segments of his his childhood are shockingly harsh. He grew up in a rural area of Augusta Georgia where he experienced the worst of Jim Crow America, having to resort to stealing the shoes off of recently lynched men.

He discovers his love of music at his local church and finds his groove. As he grows up and gains more confidence, he from The Famous Flames and his life as a musician is off and running. Along the way he meets Ben Bart (Aykroyd) who becomes his manager and good friend. We also get to hang out with Maceo Parker (Craig Robinson), Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) and so many others, except we don’t get to kick it with Bootsy :(

Now, as fun as some of this flick is (mostly because of the music), it seems like it should have been so much better. One major problem is that it jumps back and forth between eras of Brown’s life in a confusing way that ruins the flow of a few of the story lines. Another thing that sucks is JB was a total egotistical wife beating asshole. I kinda wish I never saw it and just listened to Live at the Apollo. 3 Mics for Get On Up 🎤🎤🎤. Tonight’s movie will be Lisztomania. ♥️You

Billydisaster.com



Music Biopics With Billy Disaster #10

Last night’s movie was Lisztomania starring Roger Daltrey and Sara Kestelman. Written and directed by Ken Russell.

This one was a super bizarre fantasy “biopic” of the Hungarian composer/piano player (I hate the word “pianist”) Franz Liszt made by the same dude that made The Who’s Tommy (Russell). Lisztomania is a term coined back in the 1840s that describes the Beatle’s like frenzy that occurred at Liszt’s performances. He was a rock star.

The opening scene sets the tone of what’s to follow with Liszt (Daltrey) in bed “playing;)” with his mistress to the rhythm of a metronome. The whole thing is wildly madcap and artistically weird. A recap is almost impossible but it basically gives us the crazy energy of what it must have been like for Franz in those days.

The most mind boggling thing about this flick is what they got away with in 1975 British filmmaking. I can just hear Ken Russell yelling “I need the next set to have 7 giant phallic structures about 8 stories tall!…And make sure all of the women are topless!…Sex sells people!”

If you’ve seen “Tommy” then you know what you’re in for. Big sets, killer costumes, and a frenzy of energy. It’s certainly unique filmmaking, but you’ve got to be in the mood for it. Expect some quick comedy, difficult to follow story lines, and no drama. 3 Mics for Lisztomania 🎤🎤🎤.

So that’s it for this Music Biopic series. What a blast! My favorite was La Vie En Rose. I hope you’ll join me for the next series, Gangster Flicks With Billy Disaster! I’ve already seen the popular ones (The Godfather Trilogy, all of the Scorsese flicks, Scarface) but I know there’s a ton more out there. Any suggestions? Doesn’t have to be only Italian mob…♥️You

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