There’s been a lot of criticism in the poetry world (at least on the blogs) of BRIGHT STAR, the movie about the romance between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.
I loved the flick and considered it incredibly well done. But there’s quite a few of my fellow poets who found the alterations in Keats’ and Brawne’s bios (she was even younger, some of the lines he recites as if for her were written earlier, etc.), at least from their reading, too much. Or they thought he was depicted as a wimp or too passive or simple minded or not lower class enough (or Cockney) etc.
In the end, it’s a matter of taste in terms of enjoyment of the movie, and whose research is more correct in terms of the facts of John Keats’ life and the inspiration he obviously got from his love for Brawne and how you perceive the performances and the story as movie (for instance I didn’t find the portrayal of Keats to he simple-minded, I find it intense and focused and passionate and quite believable, etc.)..
But it got me thinking about other movies based on real peoples’ lives or incidents in them, so I thought that would make a great list for me last night to help me sleep: those I truly like and could watch again anytime.
As they came to mind, I realized I usually didn’t care about the “facts,” I cared how entertaining or engaging or enlightening etc. the movie was for me.
So here are the ones I thought of (and some I had to look up the exact title for this morning, like CAMILLE CLAUDEL and WITHOUT LIMITS) (I did get carried away, took quite a while to fall asleep last night and kept waking up and thinking of other flicks):
AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (maybe my favorite of all of these and, as I understand it, closest to the real facts) and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
BRIGHT STAR, BASQUIAT (Jeffrey Wright is one of those startling movie actor discoveries in this, as morbid as it is at times) BECKET (one of the few times Richard Burton lived up to his enormous talent), BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, BONNIE AND CLYDE (both these last ones much altered from reality in their “interpretation” but still worth the trouble) and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (Tom Cruise at his best as an actor) (and before you comment that I’m leaving BIRD out, I had a tough time with the way they redid the music for that flick so it’s not a favorite.)
CINDERELLA MAN, CADILLAC RECORDS, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (DiCaprio at his most charming), COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, CAMILLE CLAUDEL, CARRINGTON (another on of Emma Thompson’s amazing performances) and CASINO (not Scorcese’s best, partly, in my opinion, because DiNiro is miscast, but it’s one of Sharon Stone’s best performances)
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, DONNIE BRASCO (one of Johnny Depp’s most subtle performances) and DEAD MAN WALKING (maybe Sean Penn’s greatest)
ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (no idea how real this one might even be but a great flick to watch), THE ELEPHANT MAN and ELIZABETH (Cate Blanchett seemed born to play this role)
FRANCES (impeccable performance by a young Jessica Lange)
GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, THE GLEN MILLER STORY (another Hollywoodized version of “the truth” but still, with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson at their most charming, it’s hard to resist, for me, I’m not embarrassed to dig romanticized, even sentimentalized versions of the truth if there’s something in the art of it, like their performances, and I love the music), GOODFELLAS and GORILLAS IN THE MIST
HILDAGO (More legend than fact but beautifully done, and Viggo Mortenson gives an old fashioned charismatic Hollywood movie star performance), HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON (almost entirely fabricated, but Danny Kaye is a delight in it for my taste) and HEAVENLY CREATURES (my introduction to the amazing Kate Winslet and what an introduction)
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (brilliant) and INTO THE WILD
THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY (This actually starred Jackie playing himself and recreating filmic versions of some of the struggles he faced as the first “black” man in professional baseball’s all-white white leagues (at least in the modern game, I understand in the 1800s and early 1900s there was some uncontroversial integration at times), so it wasn’t all that well acted, but as a kid it had an enormous impact on me and made him a lifelong hero of mine)
THE KILLING FIELDS (I’m not a fan of Sam Waterson’s but Hang S. Ngor made this film totally work and Waterson be palatable for me)
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, LA BAMBA, LEAN ON ME and THE LAST EMPEROR (another cinematic masterpiece you maybe had to see on the big screen to fully appreciate, I still listen to the soundtrack almost daily)
MIRACLE (another highly underrated performance by Kurt Russell), MICHAEL COLLINS (it has its problems but Liam Neeson is terrific as Collins and the story gets told, at least from one perspective, though Julia Roberts is miscast unfortunately), MASK, MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, THE MIRACLE WORKER, THE MUSIC LOVERS (as with most of Ken Russeell’s films this one’s way over the top in its bending of reality, but again, for me, it’s a knockout flick), MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE (Jennifer Jason Leigh in one of her many amazing portrayals), MY LEFT FOOT (Daniel Day Lewis in a role that made his well earned rep as an actor’s actor), THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE and MISHIMA (one of the all time great cinematic masterpieces which I fortunately got to see in a screening in which John Baily, the great cinematographer, used three different kinds of spliced together film for the different effects he and Paul Shrader were going for in the separate parts of Mishima’s story, amazing experience, but even in the copies made for theaters on just one type of film it still was a unique and underrated work of film art and still is)
THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT (I think I saw this on TV, it was a British flick, maybe made by the BBC, about Quintin Crisp’s early years as in many ways the first truly “out” gay man in Britain (well, obviously not the first, but in terms of flamboyance and modern perceptions) with John Hurt playing Crisp, the first time I saw that incredible actor)
OUT OF AFRICA (I resisted this for decades but finally gave in)
REDS, RAGING BULL (though I found DiNiro’s weight gain distracting), THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (one of DePardieu’s greatest performances, though based on how much actual known history of this episode beyond the broad facts is obviously debatable) ROB ROY (who knows how true it is but Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange are perfect in it) and RUDY (I love this flick and Sean Astin is wonderful in it, even if it is obviously meant to be inspirational and all Hallmarky)
SONG OF MYSELF (this I saw on TV, probably PBS in the ‘70s with Rip Torn as Walt Whitman in the greatest performance he ever did for my taste, and a beautifully done bio of Walt though necessarily some speculation involved in the story), SERGEANT YORK, SPARTACUS (who even knows what’s the truth here, but man it’s an amazing film), SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (the young Paul Newman competes with Brando’s Oscar winning totally innovative performance in ON THE WATERFRONT and falls short, but still a gas to watch him try), SERPICO (talk about competing with Brando), SWEET DREAMS (another fantastic Jessica Lange performance as Patsy Cline as well as Ed Harris as her husband in a highly underrated flick), STAND AND DELIVER and SCHINDLER’S LIST
TOMBSTONE (another set of brilliant performances by the underrated Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer, the latter almost steals the movie with his portrayal of Doc Holliday) and THE TEMPTATIONS (my little guy loves to watch this with me)
VIVA ZAPATA! (Great early acting jobs by Brando and Anthony Quinn even if the “facts” are Hollywoodized. Who can forget that final image?), THE VIRGIN QUEEN (Bette Davis in her most remarkably daring phase) and LA VIE EN ROSE
THE WILD CHILD (one of my favorites for sure, though I have no idea how close to “the truth” it is), WITHOUT LIMITS (first time I really dug Billy Crudup’s work, here as a track star, an otherwise boring topic for a film but he makes it work) and WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? (Angela Bassett made her mark with this one)
YOUNG MISTER LINCOLN (One of Henry Fonda’s great roles) and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (quite contrived but still a delight)