August 22, 2015

Hollywood biopics: When fiction is stranger than truth

The movie industry quite often tries it’s hand at developing biopics about figures who are globally well known. Of course, people are not the only inspirational source. Historical events are often dramatized while retaining some element of the truth. But once in a short while an alleged “biopic” comes along that promises to be nothing but faithful. For various reasons this does not happen, and the finished product can end up telling more fiction than fact. Reasons for this can include to simply make the picture more entertaining for the viewing audience, to a lack of permission for the studio to tell the gospel truth for whatever motive.

We are going to examine a few movies that are marketed as trusted accounts but in actual fact are not. Let’s start with one of the worst!

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story – 1993

There had and have been various biopics on the martial arts legend but Hollywood has probably made the most polished one yet. Starring Jason Scott Lee as Bruce Lee, Dragon makes up most of the “story,” even going as far as divulging the falsity that Bruce had his back broken in a fight that was fought for the reason that the Chinese did not like their martial arts secrets being told to the Western public. While the latter is true, Bruce’s actual fight ended in just a couple of minutes and he walked away unharmed. In the movie, the opponent delivers a nasty kick to his back, fracturing it and leaving poor Bruce in a wheelchair for many months before bouncing back and facing the same guy once again under the rule that he has to beat him in 60 seconds. That did not happen either, by the way! In reality, Bruce only demonstrated some of his moves at a martial arts show and had a whale of a time. Dragon also appears to get its dates wrong! Lee left Hong Kong in 1959, a fact that came from the horse’s mouth. In the movie, he was apparently still having street fights as a youth in 1961.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is definitely an account that should be taken with a large pinch of salt!

Hitchcock – 2012

Anthony Hopkins’ presence alone should have been enough to give Hitchcock a lot of credibility. Unfortunately, even though it received a theatrical release, it slipped under the radar quite quickly. But when one looks into the reasons why, the explanation becomes clear. Although it appears to be faithful to Stephen Rebello’s book, ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,’ there were quite a few liberties taken. Would you believe that Hitchcock would have been willing enough to take a mortgage out on his house to finance the movie? Not us, either. But it is true that Paramount were very sceptical about ‘Psycho’ being a success. There are conversations in Hitchcock between him and his wife relating to worries about money, but the famous director was loaded. Then there are the tales of his wife possibly having an affair while the movie was filming, and even her taking charge to direct a good portion of it!

And FYI, serial killer Ed Gein had nothing to do with Alfred’s inspiration to make Psycho as it is hinted at in the flick. Gein inspired Robert Bloch to pen the novel, but that is as far as it goes.

Don King: Only In America – 1997

Ving Rhames’ played the unconventional promoter admittedly with a lot of sparkle. And the core story was somewhat faithful. But portraying King akin to somebody like Adolf Hitler, where he has the ability to get inside the mind and persuade just about anybody that his ideals were for the greater good is, well, taking it too far! In a particular sequence, after George Foreman suffers a cut eye in sparring and wants to call the fight off, King summons the services of a witch doctor in front of an amazed Foreman and begins to cast a “spell” to physically affect Muhammad Ali. They certainly played up the flair and influence just a little too much, especially when even casual fight fans know that Don King isn’t exactly angelic. And many knew this 30 years ago.


About the Author

Lee Skavydis
Lee Skavydis
I am a die hard movie fan, owning over 500 movies on both DVD and Blu Ray. I try to go to the cinema at least once a week when time permits. My other hobbies include following fight sports such as boxing, travelling around, writing and editing, listening to heavy rock and cook the odd occasional recipe. I used to write for several prolific boxing websites, interviewing some of the most famous names associated with the sport around.


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