The artist biopic: a historical analysis of narrative cinema, 1934-2010

Bovey, D. 2015. The artist biopic: a historical analysis of narrative cinema, 1934-2010. PhD thesis University of Westminster Television, Film and Moving Image

TitleThe artist biopic: a historical analysis of narrative cinema, 1934-2010
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsBovey, D.

The thesis provides an historical overview of the artist biopic that has emerged as a distinct sub-genre of the biopic as a whole, totalling some ninety films from Europe and America alone since the first talking artist biopic in 1934. Their making usually reflects a
determination on the part of the director or star to see the artist as an alter-ego. Many of them were adaptations of successful literary works, which tempted financial backers by having a ready-made audience based on a pre-established reputation. The sub-genre’s
development is explored via the grouping of films with associated themes and the use of case studies. These examples can then be used as models for exploring similar sets of data from other countries and time periods.

The specific topics chosen for discussion include the representation of a single painter, for example, Vincent Van Gogh, to see how the treatment of an artist varies across several countries and over seventy years. British artist biopics are analysed as a case study in relation to the idea of them posing as a national stereotype. Topics within sex and gender studies are highlighted in analysis of the representation of the female artist and the queer artist as well as artists who have lived together as couples. A number of well-known gallery artists have become directors of artist biopics and their films are considered to see what particular insights a professional working artist can bring to the portrayal of artistic genius and creation.

In the concluding part of the thesis it is argued that the artist biopic overall has survived the bad press which some individual productions have received and can even be said to have matured under the influence of directors producing a quality product for the art house, festival and avant-garde distribution circuits. As a genre it has proved extremely adaptable and has reflected the changing attitudes towards art and artists
within the wider community. It has both encouraged renewed interest in the work of established national artists and also raised the profile of those relatively obscure such as Séraphine de Senlis and Pirosmani.


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