Biography on Film

Royal Family Denounces Film of Princess Grace
Grace of Monaco, with Nicole Kidman playing the title role, is expected to receive Oscar considerations when it’s released this December. But as the Sydney Morning Herald reported in May, it’s already been panned by Monaco’s royal family. Grace’s three children said the film “does not constitute a biographical work but portrays only a part of her life and has been pointlessly glamorized and contains important historical inaccuracies, as well as scenes of pure fiction.” In his defense, filmmaker Olivier Dahan said, “I am not a journalist or historian. I am an artist. I have not made a biopic.” Tim Roth joins Kidman in the cast, playing Prince Rainier.

Spielberg Plans Napoleon Biopic—With Help from Kubrick
Steven Spielberg announced earlier this year that he plans to present the life of Napoleon Bonaparte as a TV miniseries, working from a script written by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who died in 1999. Kubrick could not receive funding for the film he envisioned, about which he said, “It’s impossible to tell you what I’m going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made.”

Fresh off his work on the science-fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick planned a cradle-to-grave treatment of the French leader that would feature 40,000 extras in battle scenes and high-speed cameras that would allow filming interior scenes lit only by candlelight (something Kubrick achieved in his 1975 movie, Barry Lyndon). Struggling with his script, Kubrick called on novelist Anthony Burgess to help. The script Burgess produced—actually a novel—was too non-linear for the director’s purposes, and the project fizzled. A BBC radio dramatization of Burgess’s play, under the name Napoleon Rising, aired earlier this year.

Salinger Documentary Finally Hits the Screen
Screenwriter Shane Salerno spent nine years and $2 million of his own money making a documentary about the reclusive J. D. Salinger, and by some reports the film will offer new information about the writer. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Salerno even called the film a “mystery thriller.” The New York Times reported, however, that Salinger’s son Michael discounted the idea that Salerno has uncovered any profound new information, saying he and his father were not involved with the film, nor were any of the small group of people who knew Salinger well over the past several decades. Salerno is also releasing a biography of Salinger, an oral history, which he co-wrote with David Shields; its publication will coincide with the documentary’s release in September. A trailer for the film is available here.

Film Biographers of Williams Sisters Face Lawsuit
Filmmakers Maiken Baird and Michelle Major won some good reviews with the release earlier this year of their Venus and Serena, a look a tennis’s Williams sisters, who have dominated their sport for more than ten years. The film focuses on the sisters’ career during one year, 2011, when they faced challenges on and off the court. In June, however, the United States Tennis Association sued the filmmakers, saying Baird and Major did not have permission to use footage they included from the 2011 U.S. Open. In legal papers, the association said some of the clips were not in the best interests of tennis—presumably an allusion to comments Serena made to the umpire during a match. Baird and Major saw the lawsuit as an attempt at censorship and said they did have permission from the USTA to shoot at the U.S. Open.

Mandela Life Story Slated for Fall Release
The recent health struggles of South African leader Nelson Mandela are sure to increase interest in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, scheduled for release this November. The film is based on the anti-apartheid leader’s autobiography and features Idris Elba, best known for his work in The Wire, in the title role. The film looks at Mandela’s life from childhood through his time as president of South Africa.

Long-Delayed James Brown Film Finally Taking Shape
The biopic of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” will proceed, now that producer Brian Glazer has secured the rights to the music of James Brown. As of June, no one had been cast in the lead role, though Tate Taylor has been chosen to direct. Taylor previously directed The Help, and was Glazer’s choice after the producer ended negotiations with Spike Lee. The film project has musical star power behind the camera as well as its subject matter: Mick Jagger is involved as an executive producer. A well-regarded biography of Brown, The One: The Life and Music of James Brown by R.J. Smith, was published in 2012.

Documentary of Levon Helm Captures the Past Through the Present
Levon Helm, drummer and one of the lead singers of the heralded 1960s-70s group The Band, said he did not want a standard film depiction of his life in Jacob Hatley’s Ain’t in It For My Health. And as the Daily Beast reported this spring, the film documents Helm’s life in real time, as Hatley captures the triumphs and challenges Helm faced during their time together. But insights into the past also emerge, as Helm recounts his time with The Band—and some of his lingering anger over how the group dissolved.

Filmmakers Seek Donations to Release Randi’s Story
Filmmakers Justin Weinstein and Taylor Measom completed An Honest Liar, a documentary about James Randi—often called “the Amazing Randi”—but ran into funding problems and began seeking donations. Weinstein and Measom recently completed a successful campaign on Kickstarter but are still accepting money at their website to ensure the film’s release. Randi trained as a magician before taking on the role of public debunker of psychics, mystics, and others who claimed supernatural talents. The documentary looks at Randi’s life, including the unwanted attention he received when his longtime partner, Deyvi Pena, was arrested for identity theft. Pena went under the name José Alvarez for more than 20 years but was caught in 2011. He was sentenced to house arrest and probation after many people, including the magicians Penn and Teller, submitted statements in support of Pena.An Honest LiarComputer Pioneer’s Life Coming to the Big Screen
After showing his talents playing such diverse roles as Sherlock Holmes and a Star Trek villain, Benedict Cumberbatch will play mathematician/codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. The highly regarded script by Graham Moore draws heavily from the 1983 Alan Hodges biography of Turing, The Enigma. Also starring is Keira Knightley.