From Linda Lovelace to Naked Lunch – the ten biopics that caused a stir on release
‘Lovelace’ the Hollywood biopic of the rise and fall of Linda Boreman was released earlier today, amid controversy as porn company, Arrow productions sues for royalties. At its heart will be the catalyst for Linda’s career, the film that started it all, Deep Throat. Over forty years old now, the first ever porn film continues to titillate and appall, from the infamous coke dildo to the tenuous plotline hinging on Lovelace’s oddly-placed clitoris.
We chart the controversy of the humble biopic genre with our top ten films that actually happened IRL.
Scorsese’s American mob film set a precendent for Hollywood’s crush on the wild mafiosa lifestyle. Wise guys abound in this biopic on the life and crimes of Henry Hill, a small-town teen turned mobster at the tender age of 12 who later became an FBI informant. In 1980, Henry sold out the notorious Luchesse crime family to which he belonged and fell into a witness protection programme before selling his story to writer, Nicholas Pileggi.
The scandal value of William Burroughs’ 1959 autobiographical classic on addiction was hard sought after by Hollywood producers – at one stage there were even talks of a musical version starring Mick Jagger. Thankfully, David Cronenburg rose to the challenge to film this trippy tale of a bug exterminator who falls hard for his own roach meds. Burroughs may not have taken his own love of narcotics to the same extremes and switched to insecticides but the film certainly mirrors Burrough's own addictive personality.
Based on French author, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, this 2007 animation follows a young girl growing up under the Iranian revolution. Tackling heavy topics like misogyny with its tongue firmly in its cheek, Persepolis met with heavy opposition from Iran, Thailand and Lebanon governments, with Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda demonstrating against the film.
Who didn’t fall in love with Winona Ryder’s bambi-eyed portrayal of Susanna Kaysen, a real life BPD sufferer who checked herself into a mental hospital following an overdose? The film’s stark portrayal of life inside a psychiatric hospital raised important debate around the road to recovery from mental illness and the hidden traumas that can trigger it.
Sid & Nancy
Gary Oldman’s chameleonic tendencies were in their element in this 1986 British biopic. The film follows the drug-riddled Bonnie and Clyde of 70s punk as they self-destruct against a backdrop of junked up sex and violence. Courtney Love gunned hard for the part of Nancy Spungen, which eventually went to Chloe Webb, however Love still appears in a smaller role as the couple’s junkie tag-along.
Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo’s provocative life was immortalised on film in this 2002 biopic. The film follows her rise to prominence as one of the world’s great surrealist painters as she embarks on a series of dysfunctional relationships, eventually clashing swords with political fugitive, Leon Trotsky. When Trotsky fled to Mexico to receive political asylum from Stalin's regime, Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera who were both communists took him in and Kahlo subsequently pursued an affair with him. Trotsky was later assasinated and Kahlo repaired her marriage but later died of a suspected overdose.
The Magdalene Sisters
Released in 2002, The Magdalene Sisters told the sickeningly true story of four Irish teenage girls banished to the now infamous ‘Magdalene Laundries’ set up by the Catholic Church in the 60s. Denounced as ‘fallen women’ for perceived promiscuity they were kept trapped in a hyper-religious prison of lusty priests and vindictive nuns before eventually finding an escape. With harrowing moments of abuse and torture, it’s hard to watch this and realise that these laundries were still in operation up until 1996.
The film that changed our perspective on Charlize Theron forever more. Her portrayal of real-life man killer, Aileen Wuornos – a former prostitute with a penchant for pay-back was downright chilling. Theron’s transformation into the cold, emotionless Wuornos won her an impressive 17 awards. It would be easy to portray Wuornos as a cut and dry psycopath but often the film incites sympathy over revulsion, particularly during scenes with her lover, Selby (Christine Ricci) which leave you conflicted, horrified by her crimes yes, but conflicted all the same.
Gus Van Sant's 2008 biopic on the controversial life of San Francisco politician, Harvey Milk was a long time in the making, with Van Sant originally wanting to make the film back in the early 90s. Milk made history as the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California in 1977 but was assasinated only a year later. The film's opening footage of real gay bar raids in the 70s shows the gritty reality of the opposition Milk faced and the controversy he courted when he stood for office.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn is clearly fascinated with the demi-monde of the criminal underworld. This 2008 film documents the life of professional fighter and criminal, Charles Bronson, who gained notoriety as the ‘most violent prisoner in England’. Controversy erupted over the film’s use of an un-permitted recording of the real Bronson’s voice at the premiere but the man himself was reportedly a fan of the film after he was allowed to view it from prison.