The silver-screen version of reality TV is invading theaters this
fall and on into next year. That old Hollywood staple, the biopic,
is back ... with a few twists.
While early Hollywood screen biographies tended to tell the
stories of famous Dead White Men (from Napoleon to Abe Lincoln to
Alexander Graham Bell), today the variety is boggling. The fictional
hero of the Oscar-winner "Gladiator" has resulted in a scramble to
put the lives of real-life ancient military leaders such as Hannibal
and Alexander the Great on the screen. But filmmakers also think
audiences will flock this fall to see the stories of:
* a Mexican artist ("Frida")
* debauched sitcom star Bob Crane ("Auto Focus")
* spaced-out game-show host Chuck Barris ("Confessions of a
* murdered Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin
* chameleon-like con man Frank Frank Abagnale Jr. ("Catch Me If
One of the most-honored biopics of all time, "Lawrence of
Arabia," the story of a tormented and mentally unstable adventurer,
T.E. Lawrence, has also been spruced up for a rerelease this fall.
Of course, playing a troubled character doesn't always result in
box-office gold (witness Jim Carrey's "Man in the Moon").
But Hollywood's megastars often leap at a chance to appear in
these movies, since the depth and complexity offered by a real-life
character can be a juicy part that leads to Oscar-night attention (a
la Russell Crowe in last year's "A Beautiful Mind," Geoffrey Rush in
"Shine," or Daniel Day Lewis in "My Left Foot").
Greg Kinnear in "Auto Focus" seems born to play "Hogan's Hero"
star Crane, whose wholesome screen presence belied a turbulent
personal life; and indie-movie veteran Sam Rockwell will try to
channel Barris, once the host of "The Gong Show," a quirky,
psychedelic '70s version of "American Idol."
In development for possible release next year are even more tales
of strange or unsavory characters: Grown-up child star Macaulay
Culkin will play New York nightclub party organizer Michael Alig,
who boasted about committing murders.
Rising star Hayden Christensen ("Star Wars: Episode 2") will
portray Stephen Glass, a high-flying writer at The New Republic
whose supposed reporting was found to be mostly fiction.
And Leonardo DiCaprio will play eccentric and reclusive
billionaire Howard Hughes in "The Aviator," directed by Martin
Big-screen bad guys
Plenty of crooks and other villains will get their own films too.
Young Australian star Heath Ledger will retell the story of Aussie
outlaw Ned Kelly. "Indecent Exposure" will show movie mogul David
Begelman in full Enron/Tyco scandal mode.
David Mamet has signed a deal to write the script for a film
about gangster John Dillinger. And "Max" (with John Cusack in the
title role) will tell the tale of a wealthy Jewish art dealer who
tries, and fails, to help a struggling young Austrian artist by the
name of Adolf Hitler.
Earlier this year, movies about serial killers Ted Bundy and
Jeffrey Dahmer hit theaters.
Author Joyce Carol Oates called literary efforts to tell the
stories of troubled or just plain evil figures "pathographies."
Cultural historian George Custen, who teaches American Studies at
the College of Staten Island, says this kind of biography looks at
either down-and-dirty aspects of already established lives, [such
as] the affairs of John Kennedy instead of [his] statesmanship . …