Most biographies range between strangely mundane and straight-up lies yet rarely fall into a happy medium. Some glamorize the fall of the likes of Kurt Cobain whilst others have hidden crucial aspects of their star such as sexuality in the case of James Dean or David Bowie. I’ve watched my fair share of biographies so here are the best of the bunch, they’re entertaining whilst not veering from the truth.
Control (Ian Curtis of Joy Division)
I’m a little biased as Joy Division are my favourite band on this list but regardless of that fact ‘Control’ is worth a watch. Considering the tragic fate and life of Ian Curtis the documentary handles his struggle with depression and epilepsy with both sensitivity and dignity. The whole film is slick in black and white with details even such as the title being so significant. The title alludes to the Joy Division song ‘she’s lost control’ about a girl who has an epileptic seizure and how Curtis tried to remain in control of his life when in fact his seizures and pharmaceutical side effects meant he had very little control. The personal feel of the film was created by the fact that the director (Anton Corbijn) worked for the band in the 1970s and Curtis’s widow was a co-producer. The film is ultimately tragic but the story is honest and Sam Riley captures the essence of Ian Curtis well.
Montage of Heck (Kurt Cobain of Nirvana)
This is the first documentary since his death in 1994 that has been approved by his family. Courtney Love first came to Brett Morgan with the idea and from there he developed the script. The film is tell all and sits as a good balance between demonizing Cobain for his drug use and destructive ways and glamorizing his lifestyle, mental health issues and suicide. They use home footage from Love which including previous unheard demos, journals, songbooks and artwork. They take interviews from those around Cobain at different times of his life to create a rounded picture of him that truly explains the man behind the brown cardigan.
Sid and Nancy (Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols)
Now this is one to AVOID. It is a sham of both Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen which is pointed out by John Lydon and other sources that knew them. The film glamorizes drug use and ‘humiliates [Vicious’s] entire life’. The film used few and far between source and essentially captured the stage persona of Sid Vicious without revealing John Simon Ritchie, the man behind the enigma. If you fancy something that actually tells you about the Sex Pistols try ‘The Flith and the Fury’. It was created with the Sex Pistols by long-time collaborator Julien Temple and features the band (minus Vicious due to his death in 1979).
Love and Mercy (Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys)
I might be a little biased on this one too but I do love Paul Dano. Love and Mercy is set in two parts, the first being during the 1960s when Brian and the rest of The Beach Boys are riding the high of their commercial success and the second being during the personal turmoil he faced first at the loss of his father, then at substance abuse and finally at the emotional abuse at the hands of his psychiatrist. The film strikes a nice balance between the happy and sad parts of his life and documents the rise of the Beach Boys well too.
Nowhere Boy (John Lennon of The Beatles)
The cast are perfect. Aaron Johnson (now Taylor-Wood) emanates Lennon like the legend he is whilst Thomas Sangster’s Paul McCartney plays off of his outgoing personality to create a winning dynamic between them. The film captures the turbulent times that lead to the beginnings of the Beatles and the inspiration behind their earliest work. Even if you’re not a Beatles fan it’s still a pragmatic story of adolescence in 1950s Liverpool.