Embodied reality: Contemporary biopics and the inflections of stardom
Dolan, J. (2009) Embodied reality: Contemporary biopics and the inflections of stardom. In: IMAGEing reality: Representing the Real in Film, Television and New Media, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, 22-24 October 2009.
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With films like Iris (Eyre, 2001), Walk the Line (Mangold, 2005), The Queen (Frears, 2006,) Milk (Van Sant, 2008), The Wrestler (Aronofsky, 2008) dominating international film awards, the importance of biopics to contemporary circuits of ‘factual’ screen narrative is largely self evident. Yet, as suggested by the call for papers made by this conference, the genre tends to be overlooked in ‘reality’ debates, thus compounding the critical neglect first identified by George Custen (1991) in his exposition of the role played by biopics in the construction of public history. Sharing many of the authenticating codes and conventions of docudrama/dramadoc (Paget, 1990, 1998) the biopic is characteristically concerned with particular historical figures, rather than collective activities and/or significant events, with powerful implications for the ideological uses of the past (Dolan et al, 2009). In the biopic the focus on the individual historical subject is exacerbated by mainstream cinema’s reliance on the assumed box-office appeal of major stars. In this context, this paper will interrogate the dynamic between star image and the biopic subject. Given Dyer’s (1986) argument that stars embody social values, the paper explores how star persona inflects our understandings of the biopic subject and the ways in which star image disrupts and/or supports the factual discourses mobilised by the biopic narrative.