Biography, vol. 23, no. 1 (2000): The Biopic


Editor’s Introduction, p. v
Guest Editor Glenn Man


Not the Full Story: Representing Ruth Ellis, p. 1
Sue Tweg

Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, lingers in the popular imagination in two films, the fictional Yield to the Night (1956) and the Ellis biopic Dance with a Stranger (1985). This article examines how the film medium reworks biographical details to shape and define Ellis herself, her fictional alter ego, and two female film stars.

Malcolm X: In Print, On Screen, p. 29
Thomas Doherty

In 1992, the Malcolm X of the printed page ceded pride of place, at least temporarily, to the Malcolm X of the motion picture screen, Malcolm X, Spike Lee’s reverent biopic, challenged the Hollywood tradition, but the biopic also threatened the status of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Yet the media face-off between the two images of Malcolm X–the literary creation and the motion picture version–indicated that even in an incessantly visual culture, a portrait in literature can outlive a depiction in film.

“Herr Direktor”: Biography and Autobiography in Schindler’s List, p. 49
Clifford Marks and Robert Torry

Our essay explores the role of biography and autobiography in Schindler’s List. By autobiography, we mean how the film metaphorically tells the story of Steven Spielberg through the story of Oskar Schindler. Spielberg unconsciously invokes autobiography to write biography and history. This invocation is the palimpsest over which Schindler’s List is produced.

Glowing Dishes: Radium, Marie Curie, and Hollywood, p. 71
T. Hugh Crawford

This paper discusses the cultural power of images of science and scientists produced by film biography. Using Mervyn LeRoy’s Madame Curie as an example, it charts the remarkable symmetry between some recent feminist critiques of science and some versions of feminist film theory, particularly in relation to notions of enlightenment, objectification, and identity.

Oscar Wilde at the Movies: British Sexual Politics and The Green Carnation (1960), p. 90
Margaret D. Stetz

Representations of the life of Oscar Wilde have served diverse political ends in the twentieth century. In 1960, following the “Wolfenden Report,” two British biopics used Wilde’s story to argue for decriminalizing male homosexuality. The Green Carnation, in particular, presented Wilde as a sympathetic gay Everyman, but also erased much of what had made him a challenge to the straight Victorian bourgeoisie.

Biopics and Politics: The Making and Unmaking of the Rhodes Movies, p. 108
James Burns

Since 1916 seven organizations have tried to make a “biopic” abut the controversial South African imperialist Cecil John Rhodes. However politicians in Southern Africa and Britain undermined all but two of the projects, and tried to influence the two “biopics” that were actually made. When screened, both films inspired a heated public debate about Rhodes and his legacy.

The Mechanical Life in the Age of Human Reproduction: American Biopics, 1961-1980, p. 127
George F. Custen

This essay continues where Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History left off. It examines the cultural context of Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s, and charts how a number of changes–in attitudes toward fame outside the entertainment industry, in the personnel who ran Hollywood, and in the rise of TV–affected how post-studio Hollywood constructed public history.

“Everybody Loves Somebody”: The A&E “Rat Pack” Biographies p. 160
Mikita Brottman

This analysis of the recent A&E Biography© series on the Rat Pack studies the ways in which the series tends to shun the contemporary model of the voyeuristic celebrity narrative, and instead attempts to create a mass fantasy of the happiness of mythical pasts. The article analyzes the standard formulaic features of the A&E Biography©, which include a veneration and a magnification so extreme as to actually rewrite history.

Film and Video Self-Biographies, p. 176
Audrey Levasseur

This article introduces, defines, and examines self-biographies, a cinematic hybrid form that combines the traits of biography and autobiography. By surveying several important early examples of celebrity self-biography, the essay chronicles important characteristics of the subgenre, and calls attention to a potential weakness of the form. The essay assesses not only how the celebrity-subject’s performance impacts on the director, but also how the director’s choices affect the complexity of the treatment. The conclusion probes issues of non-celebrity self-biography.

Marlene: Modernity, Mortality, and the Biopic, p. 193
Lucy Fischer

One of the major genres in Hollywood is the so-called “biopic,” and, frequently, such films have focused on the life of a well-known actress: Gertrude Lawrence, Frances Farmer, or Susan Hayward, for instance. Just as recent cinema has re-worked genres like the western and the musical (in films like Silverado or Pennies from Heaven), so the biopic is subject to modernist or postmodernist elaboration. This is the project of Maximilian Schell’s experimental biopic Marlene (1983)–which seeks to examine the life and career of Marlene Dietrich. Frustrating Schell’s desire, however, is the fact that, although she commissioned the film, Dietrich refuses to appear in it, leaving the filmmaker/biographer to deal with only photographs and archival film footage. Nonetheless, this highly self-reflexive work raises questions about the nature of biography, the relationship between cinema and death, and the ontology of the film medium.

Biopic Bibliography, p. 212
Alana Bell

An annotated list of books, articles, and dissertations on the biopic.


Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-Writing, by Suzette Henke, p. 223
Reviewed by E. Ann Kaplan

Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory Through the Camera’s Eye, by Barbie Zelizer, p. 231
Reviewed by Caroline Wiedmer

Feminism, Film, Fascism: Women’s Auto/Biographical Film in Postwar Germany, by Susan E. Linville, p. 235
Reviewed by Jans B. Wager

Sacred Biographies in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia, edited by Juliane Schober, p. 239
Reviewed by Jacob N. Kinnard

Writing the Self: Autobiographical Writing in Modern Arabic Literature, edited by Robin Ostle, Ed de Moor, and Stefan Wild, p. 242
Reviewed by Dwight F. Reynolds

Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, by Scott E. Casper, p. 245
Reviewed by Norma Basch

Creating Historical Memory: English-Canadian Women and the Work of History, edited by Beverly Boutilier and Alison Prentice, p. 247
Reviewed by Nathalie Cooke

Memory and Narrative: The Weave of Life-Writing, by James Olney, p. 251
Reviewed by G. Thomas Couser

Men of Letters, Writing Lives: Masculinity and Literary Auto/Biography in the Late Victorian Period, by Trev Lynn Broughton, p. 254
Reviewed by Herbert Sussman

Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette, by Paul Robinson, p. 257
Reviewed by Jim Brogan

Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author, by Ross Chambers, p. 260
Reviewed by Julien S. Murphy


Excerpts from recent reviews of biographies, autobiographies, and other works of interest


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