Pictures of People: Thoughts on Biopics

How do biopics shape our memory of historical figures?

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

Lou Gehrig spoke these words and was immortalized.

But Gary Cooper spoke them too. His wonderful monologue at the end of “The Pride of the Yankees” forever shaped and dramatized the image of Gehrig. In fact, the last thing Gehrig said at the end of his speech were not those infamous words but “I may have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Had it been these words Gehrig wanted to be remembered, he might not consider himself quite as lucky.

The biopic is a peculiar genre in film with the power to influence historical perception more than reality itself. If a director’s goal is typically to entertain or make a statement through a work of art, then the biopic is not often viewed as a director intended but as a recreation of a true moment in time.

How will audiences going to see “J. Edgar” this weekend react? Perhaps several generations now have no memory of J. Edgar Hoover or what people thought of him as he was alive. Their imagination of the man will be limited to Leonardo DiCaprio and the story Clint Eastwood tells. Continue reading “Pictures of People: Thoughts on Biopics”

J. Edgar

J. Edgar Hoover worked tirelessly to maintain an image of power, fame and significance in the 48 years he served the FBI.

Since his death, his legacy has been tarnished, if not forgotten, with allegations he was not as pivotal to the FBI as he appeared, that he held confidential information over politicians and public figures as a form of blackmail and that he was a homosexual who occasionally wore women’s clothes.

Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar,” along with Leonardo DiCaprio in the eponymous role, dons an equally inflated presence and renders itself just as unmemorable. Continue reading “J. Edgar”