Deborah Mellamphy

Historicising the Biopic: Issues of Gender and Authorship in the Figure of the Hollywood Director

Year: 2008

Keywords: n/a


University College Cork
(at time of presentation)

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Biopics are often seen as a matter of transferring historical events and characters to the film medium.  George F. Custen and Belen Vidal have argued that the genre does not seek to simply reconstruct the reality of history but that it combines historical fact with fantasy.  Taking this approach into consideration, this paper will discuss the political usefulness of the genre for historicising contemporary arguments on gender, authorship and the artistic process, whilst also providing fictionalised, imaginary scenarios.

The biopic operates through the layering of textual and contextual references, which involves for example the soundtrack, casting, performance, mise en scene, narration and editing techniques to draw attention to the processes of interpretation.  I will focus on the biopic that deals with the figure of the Hollywood director, specifically referring to Ed Wood (Burton, 1994) and Gods and Monsters (Condon, 1998), as both films centre on gender and sexuality issues such as transvestism and homosexuality.  As both films were released during the 1990s, in the wake of the queer movement, both films interact with historical concepts of gender and contemporary issues, as well as issues of authorship within Hollywood.