This fall movie season has a few interesting music biopics opening up. The first, called Jimi: All is by My Side stars André Benjamin (aka André 3000 of Outkast) as Jimi Hendrix and it focuses exclusively on Hendrix’s year of reinvention in the 1967 London music scene. Another, Love & Mercy, about the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, stars both John Cusack (old, fat Brian) and Paul Dano (young Brian) as the enigmatic musician and only touches on a few years of his life.
What intrigues me most about these two films is that neither follows the typical cradle-to-grave format of other musical biopics. Films like Walk The Line that try to encapsulate an artist’s entire personal life and career into two hours are seldom interesting to me. Steven Hyden of Grantland hit on why this is the case in a review of the James Brown biopic Get On Up earlier this year:
"Biopics are obligated to dramatize the “real” person behind the legend, but the real person is both unknowable and irrelevant. The idea of the person is what matters; it’s what justifies the biopic treatment in the first place."
I think he is right. Trying to dramatize a lot of biographical details of famous peoples’ lives often turns into just a bunch of silly window dressing with little importance for why we care about the artist. Why look there is Johnny Cash talking to Elvis! And there he is with Waylon Jennings! Is he smoking weed!? None of it ever helps to get a deeper understanding of the artist’s work or what that work meant to our culture.
Anyway, with my enthusiasm for seeing these films being so strong I was disappointed to find that I had basically no (legal) options to see them. There is not a theatre playing Jimi: All is by My Side within a 2 hour drive of where I live and I couldn’t even find any screening information for Love & Mercy within a 500 mile radius of where I live, despite the movie already being released. And I don’t exactly consider Southern Connecticut to be some remote part of the country.
All of this got me thinking about how much better music distribution is for the consumer – at least for small and medium sized releases. When we release our album next year it will be available for our fans to obtain on any number of platforms all at once. The idea that smaller movies like the two I’ve mentioned are not immediately available for me to experience doesn’t make any sense. I have to wait several months for these films to be released on DVD or be available on a streaming service like Google Play, yet these movies are being discussed, reviewed and promoted now. I will have completely forgotten about them in many months’ time. It would be like us promoting our album and then when people ask where and when they can hear it we respond with, “I don’t know. Many months from now perhaps?”
I can understand how a film like The Avengers would follow the old fashioned model of having a theater release followed by a long gap before online distribution. Those kind of movies actually make a lot of money in the theaters. But most movies don’t. And of course those films have to actually be in theaters for one to see them. As I said, I actually want to go to the theater and see these movies but I simply couldn't. Obviously these issues involve a lot of complicated economics (of which I am no expert) but I think it is only a matter of time before all of this changes. Both the artists and the consumers are being hurt by an out of date distribution model.