Conceptualizing the Hollywood biopic

Source document: Theatralia. 2014, vol. 17, iss. 2, pp. 50-59
  • ISSN
    1803-845X (print)
    2336-4548 (online)
License: Not specified license
The biopic has been traditionally regarded as a minor, audience-limiting genre. As a consequence of this, producers, directors and actors have tended to avoid this term when referring to their work. This paper discusses how, despite the allegedly minor status of this genre, in recent years a fair amount of Academy Awards ('Oscars') has been awarded to actors and actresses engaged in biopic performances that are celebrated as the highest exercise of acting virtuosity. Since 1998, at least one of the Oscars has been awarded to a biopic performance. In this respect, the film critic Guy Lodge notes that the Academy Awards have gone to performances "calculated as bait, ostentatiously advertising their 'degree of difficulty'". Today, the American academy understands the idea of transformation in literal terms, since the highest aesthetic value is allocated to the reproduction of physical and vocal mannerisms of the persons they impersonate. I approach the contemporary biopic fever from two different but complementary theoretical perspectives, the Prague School research on acting (Zich, Veltruský) and the theory of fictional worlds (Doležel). Finally, because of the cultural and ideological implications of the apparently transparent biopic industry, I engage in a brief philosophical reflection and argue that Hollywood privileges the copy over the simulacrum in a very Platonic fashion.
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