Condensing the lives of real people into a two-hour movie often forces filmmakers to carefully edit the facts. This sometimes leads to biopics that are more of a fictionalization than an accurate portrayal. People who played a part in the protagonists' lives may be omitted, and events that shaped their beliefs or inspired their actions may be left on the cutting room floor.
These changes don't always make a biopic bad, but they can prevent it from telling the complete truth. The worst offenders change the facts completely or base their plotlines on conspiracy theories and what-ifs. Most often, biographical pictures are inaccurate simply due to the nature of making a movie.
Abridging some pieces of a person's life may be necessary to fit the constraints of a motion picture, but a good biography uses facts in a respectful manner without altering reality. Unfortunately, not every biopic succeeds.
- Photo: Orion Pictures
Amadeus won numerous awards, including the 1985 Oscar for Best Picture, but much of the story is pure fiction. Most notably, there is no hard evidence that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri ever hated one another or engaged in a rivalry. Filmmakers most likely added this to make the story of Mozart more interesting, specifically when viewed through the eyes of a man who wanted him gone.
Though the film shows Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) plotting against Mozart (Tom Hulce) in an attempt to ruin his career, evidence suggests the two men were actually friends. In a letter, Mozart claimed he once gave Salieri a ride to a performance of his opera The Magic Flute, and Salieri thoroughly enjoyed it. It is true that Italian musicians prevented The Marriage of Figaro from being performed in Vienna, and that Salieri beat out Mozart for a position teaching music to the Princess of Württemberg, but there is no evidence that Salieri was behind either of these events, as depicted in the movie.
Amadeus also implies that, in addition to being a notorious womanizer, Mozart became romantic with Caterina Cavalieri, whom he cast in The Abduction from the Seraglio. Salieri is depicted as being more jealous of Mozart for his successful romantic conquest. This love triangle was likely made up by the filmmakers, as history suggests Cavalieri was the mistress of Salieri, and Mozart specifically told his father in a letter that he had no relations with her.
These are the most prominent inaccuracies of Amadeus. Movie fans and historians have also pointed out other departures from reality, such as how conductors operated at the time, the wrong music being played during a dance, and the erroneous depiction of Salieri completing Requiem as Mozart passed.Is this basically fiction?
- Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Any viewer who watches Lisztomania to learn about the life of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt is going to be disappointed - and probably very confused.
Instead of delving into Liszt's biography, the film is an absurd fantasy filled with 8-foot-long erections, capes, and vampires. With the Who's Roger Daltrey playing Liszt, and an appearance by Ringo Starr as the Pope, the film says more about art styles in 1975 - the year it was filmed - than the 1800s, when it's supposed to be set.
The film turns Liszt's real-life lover, Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, into a dominatrix. His son-in-law, composer Richard Wagner, becomes an anti-Semitic vampire who creates a Frankenstein-style monster as a symbol of white supremacy.
Lisztomania certainly succeeds in creating an absurdist spectacle - but maintaining a certain amount of accuracy? Not so much. The Guardian suggests it "may be the most embarrassing historical film ever made."Is this basically fiction?
'CBGB'Photo: XLrator Media
In 1973, music club CBGB opened in New York's gritty Bowery and became a haven for punk and alternative bands. Owner Hilly Kristal allowed anyone playing original music to take the stage, and bands like Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Ramones used the club to launch their careers. While CBGB celebrates the ideals of the club and Kristal (Alan Rickman), it was picked apart by critics, historians, and viewers for missing basic facts.
Many viewers noted the movie obviously wasn't filmed in New York. And the version of New York depicted - an urban landscape of burned out cars and cadavers - is way overblown, even for the 1970s. The Village Voice noticed that band stickers cover the walls of the venue, despite the fact that no band had yet taken the stage. They also pointed out that Kristal is portrayed as not knowing what he's doing - despite running a popular music venue - and that the only bands included in the film are caucasian.
Bands like MC5, the New York Dolls, and the Velvet Underground are shown playing in the club, but never did. Some bands who did play there are shown singing songs they didn't - and could not have - performed. Most notable is Patti Smith playing "Because the Night" five years before she actually wrote it, and the Ramones playing "I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)," a solo cut by Joey Ramone that wasn't released until 2002.
The movie stretches the truth so thinly that, in the credits, it acknowledges the duet between Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop never occurred at the club. The filmmakers suggest audiences just "deal with it!"Is this basically fiction?
- Photo: Lionsgate Films
Critics were less than thrilled with Beyond the Sea, not because director/actor Kevin Spacey got the facts wrong, but because most saw the movie as nothing more than a vanity project.
The inaccuracy present in this film is really an issue of optics. The then-45-year-old Spacey cast himself in the lead role of Bobby Darin, who became a star in his teens and passed at age 37. Spacey did close to nothing to change his appearance and thus looks very odd as a middle-aged man playing a teenager.
While the actor has a decent voice, and a clear love for Darin, film critics like Mick LaSalle noted that Spacey was simply not a good fit to play the youthful, energetic singer. "Where Darin was feisty, charming and openhearted, Spacey is sly, creepy and covered," he writes in his review. "Where Darin was insolent but vulnerable, Spacey is insolent and impervious."
That lack of vulnerability is the film's ultimate downfall, LaSalle claims. Darin's early demise was the result of a heart condition he developed at a young age, and his health was so poor that he required the use of backstage oxygen tanks. "That Darin was a sick man... for his entire career is the essential fact of [his] life story. It's what drove him," LaSalle writes. By contrast, Spacey's Darin appears hale and healthy for the majority of the film, with the tanks not shown until the end.Is this basically fiction?