Dear Hollywood: Stop With the Drugs and Sex

Ray; Walk the Line; I Saw the Light; Born to be Blue; Miles Ahead; LaBamba; Great Balls of Fire; What’s Love Got to Do With It; Little Girl Blue; Get On Up; Love and Mercy; Cadillac Records… the list goes on and on. Movies that tell the stories of popular music’s top stars – all going down in flames. 


The problem is, for Hollywood to make money on these releases, apparently, the focus must be on lives falling apart. I grew up on Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin and many others. When a movie comes out on one of their lives, I’m first in line at the box office, hoping to learn about the music that is the soundtrack of my life. No luck. 

These movies are usually about pill bottles, psychiatrists, and abuse of wives and girlfriends. I want to know more about the music: who wrote it; what was the inspiration; the creativity behind it; musical innovation, etc. I’m always disappointed. I have to admit, though, Love and Mercy had some cool stuff about how The Beach Boys made Good Vibrations – along with the pills and the Nazi shrink who ran Brian Wilson’s life. 

Usually, though, it’s just some version of fist fights, throwing up in cheap motels, and one-night stands. 

Come on, Hollywood, is there no market for movies focusing on how the music is made? Maybe the movie-going public wants drugs, death, and despair. Maybe a movie about a straight-ahead healthy genius like Dave Brubeck just would not sell tickets. I promise, I’d buy a ticket.  

With three new music movies out: Miles Ahead (Miles Davis), Born to be Blue (Chet Baker), and I Saw the Light (Hank Williams), we’ll see if any of this has changed. Unlikely. 

P.S. It was hard enough on me when Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Carl Rogers died. I hope I die before Joan Baez, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, Fats Domino, or Bob Dylan. If they go first, I swear, I’m going off the bridge.

2 thoughts on “Dear Hollywood: Stop With the Drugs and Sex

  1. Chris Greene says:

    Great read! I agree wholeheartedly. I think that explosions, parties and superheros could be thrown into that mix of "pump the breaks, Hollywood" as well. Give us more story. More inspiration. It’d be nice if "Miles Ahead" and "I Saw the Light" were to stray from that course, but unfortunately they’re both pretty heavily infused with those elements.

    "Miles Ahead" is quite fun, in the way that it’s structured. It’s almost more of a comedy than anything. The music almost seems secondary, even. Which is bizzare considering it’s supposed to be about Miles Davis. That being said, I’d say that the film did a pretty great job of capturing the essence of the man, later in his life. The chaos of it all. While watching it, I couldn’t help but think "wow, this is a pretty incredible story". Being 26 and not incredibly familiar with Miles Davis, I thought it was based on truth. I liked it, even. The characters are well written and easy to empathize with, but once I found out that one of the main characters in the film, the Rolling Stone writer, was fictional, I didn’t really know what to think. It captures an essence that seems true, it feels true, yet there’s a conflict in that it’s actually not true. Aside from that, it’s a well-made films. It flows, seamlessly, with very interesting transitions that can almost be hallucinatory at times. In terms of craft, it’s pretty excellent. "I Saw the Light" was at the other end of the spectrum.

    An interesting film, surly. "I Saw the Light" takes Hank Williams’ drama and hides it away. I kept waiting for something to leave an impression on me. It just never quite got on its feet. The music is fantastic and Huddleston does a great job with singing and even maintains a pretty believable southern drawl, despite his English-ness. What’s interesting about the film, is also what I don’t think quite works about it, and that’s the structure. The film focuses on the aftermath of dramatic situations. It’s non-linear. Things do happen in order, but it’s hard to say how much time has passed from one scene to the next. We never see any fights or arguments or heavy drinking, but we do see their outcome (ever-so subtly). Suddenly Hank Williams has a child. Suddenly Hank Williams is married. Suddenly the child has grown up and Hank Williams is a drunken mess. Nothing leads us to these conclusions, were only left to ponder what actually happen. In a way, it’s brilliant. It’s something new, that’s not dramatic and it’s a little ambiguous. That being said, it just didn’t work out for this film. People are expecting a bio-pic. They want to know more about this person. Like you say, inspiration is what is interesting. It’s what I’d like more of as well. This type of structure works well in the new Terrence Malick film "knight of cups", but that’s because that film isn’t specifically about anyone. It’s more of an experience.

    The interesting thing about both of these films, in terms of them not having that inspirational kick, is that the films also portray the artists as not wanting to describe their inspirational kick. Both characters are hesitant to disclose any information about their musical motivation in the films. They are both weary of reporters and media, in general. This is believable to me, but I would have liked to know how they got to that point. These movies aren’t painting the musicians in the nicest of lights for the future.

    Thank you for writing! I look forward to reading more.


  2. Chris Greene says:

    I wish I could fix my grammatical errors. Doing this on a phone is less than ideal. *Hiddleston, among others.


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