The person behind the mic: 10 music biopics you should see - Raindance

No matter what type of music you listen to, there’s a reason why you can relate to the songs. And the reason is the person behind the mic.

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

This film directed by Sydney J. Fury tells the story of the career legendary Jazz Singer Billie Holiday as well as her drug addiction that threatened not only her career but her life as well. Although the film makes use of the general story that many artists have, the film is brought to life through Diana Ross’s Performance.

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Directed by Michael Apted the film tells the story of Loretta Lynn’s unsuspected rise to fame. Although many music biopics have the same type of formula; poverty+talent = quick fame+difficult personal life, it is Lynn’s personal story that adds uniqueness to the film. Married as a teenager, Loretta Lynn played by Sissy Spacek soon begins a family with husband Oliver Lynn (Doolittle in the film), played by Tommy Lee Jones. Lynns’ husband buys her guitar because he likes her voice, and soon after she becomes a country singer. The usual pitfalls that come with fame ensue. Roger Ebert describes the film as “more intelligent and observant than movie biographies used to be,” (before its time).

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)

Despite the fact, that the film had caused controversy due to copyright infringement, and is technically not supposed to be available, technological innovations has made it rather accessible to view. With that being said I suggest that you find and watch the film as soon as possible. Director Todd Haynes takes an interesting approach to the film by using Barbie dolls in place of human actors. The film is not just about the music; it is about Karen Carpenter’s struggle with anorexia. The film also makes use of voice-overs and found footage to help explain the final years of Karen Carpenter, as well as anorexia. Superstar is not just a music biopic but a lesson on anorexia as well.

What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)

Directed by Brian Gibson the film not only demonstrates Tina Turners’ (played by Angela Bassett) rise to fame but it also illustrates the inner abuse she suffered in her marriage to husband Ike Turner (played by Laurence Fishburne). Although a star Turner is no different than many of the women caught in a domestically violent situation. Turner finds herself making up excuses for Ike Turners abusive behaviour. Not only does Bassett capture the struggle of an abused wife, but onstage Bassett does more than lip-sync, instead, she performs as if it were Turner on the stage. Fishburne is also rather exceptional in the film transitioning from admiring fan to a possessive nightmare.

Walk the Line (2005)

This film directed by James Mangold depicts the personal and public life of Country Music Singer Johnny Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix. After leaving the family farm and gaining success as a singer, struggles with drugs and money result in a failed marriage. Afterwards, while on tour Cash meets the love of his life June Carter, but his behaviour is a threat to their relationship. The film focuses greatly on Johnny and June’s relationship.

Control (2007)

Directed by Anton Corbijn Control tells the story of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the band Joy Division. The film is based on the memoir by Ian’s wife Debrah Touching From a Distance. Control illustrates the struggle within Ian and Debrah’s marriage, the pressures of fame, and his battle with epilepsy, all causes leading to his suicide at only age 23. Shot in black and white this film adds another level of emotion to the film.

I’m Not There (2007)

Todd Haynes returns with another experimental music biopic, this time without the copyright infringements, making the film easily accessible. Haynes does make use of humans to play Bob Dylan, however, unlike most biopics that use two actors at the most to portray a character in their adolescence and in their adult years, Haynes uses of several different actors. These actors include Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, and Ben Whishaw. By the end of the film, you still won’t understand Bob Dylan, but don’t worry about that because Bob Dylan doesn’t even understand Bob Dylan, after all, he did say, “All I can do is be me whoever that is.”

Nowhere Boy (2007)

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson the film depicts the early life of John Lennon. This film does not worry so much about the rise of the Beatles, but more about the young John Lennon (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The film illustrates Lennon’s relationship with his mother Julia, played by Anne-Marie Duff and Lennon’s inspiration to begin a band. There are many biopics that explain the rise of the musician but not many focus on their life before fame making this film stand out from most music biopics.

Love and Mercy (2014)

While Nowhere Boy focused on the life before fame, Love and Mercy pays attention to life before fame and how it has affected life during and after fame. Directed by Bill Pohland the film makes use vibrant colours, however, what’s revealed is not so bright. Instead, the film reveals Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson’s battle with psychosis. The young Brian played by Paul Dano works through his psychosis while also working on his music. Twenty years later Brian is under 24-hour surveillance by a sketchy Dr Landy played by Paul Giamatti. Wilson’s only solace is Melinda Ledbetter played by Elizabeth Banks.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)


The final film I will suggest in this list of great music biopics is F Gary Grays film Straight Outta Compton. The film depicts the 1980s group N.W.A. Not only does the film tell the story of how N.W.A came to be, but it also sheds light on the conditions of Compton at the time. Straight Outta Compton also shows the condition of the world outside of Compton and how police treated the young rappers. Although this film is 30 years overdue it is definitely one you should s