Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Will Roger Ebert Biopic Be a Big Bust?

Back in 1970, the unlikely friendship between a grizzled WWII vet and a shy young movie critic made (cult) movie history.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

October 24, 2013 - 4:30 pm

russ_meyer_ebert

Biopics range from the sublime (Coal Miner’s Daughter) to the shambolic (98.5% of the others).

Who hasn’t experienced that very particular sensation of profound embarrassment while watching, say, Wired or Beyond the Sea or pretty much any movie in which a real person is being impersonated by a badly cast actor, especially one burdened by distracting facial prosthetics?

Why do we get so exercised by “stunt casting” gone wrong, fuming for weeks over Alan Rickman’s performance as Ronald Reagan in The Butler?

Hell, I’m still mad at Alex Cox for making Gary Oldman wear a “hammer and sickle” t-shirt instead of a “swastika” one in Sid & Nancy, and his failure to cast Courtney Love as Oldman’s costar.

Maybe it has something to do with that part of our brain where the “uncanny valley” resides.

As well, we mistakenly believe we “know” famous people — even own them, in a way.

How dare an actor get “our” celebrity wrong! How dare that director cast the wrong person to play him?

The passionate comments beneath this article on Sacha Baron Cohen’s firing from the Freddie Mercury biopic are representative.

Whereas I have no investment in that project (emotional or otherwise), there are dueling Clash biopics in various stages of development, so here’s sensational news for both producers:

I’ve got your Mick Jones right here.

Happy to help!

YouTube Preview Image

Expect plenty of heated reaction when they announce who will play Roger Ebert in the recently greenlit biopic about his collaboration with director Russ Meyer on the 1970 cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Movie geeks know the story by heart:

The macho, boisterous, “right wing” Meyer befriended a young, nerdy, liberal Ebert, after the latter defended Meyer’s ribald “nudie” flicks about big-busted ball-busters in the Wall Street Journal.

When a sclerotic Twentieth Century Fox picked outsider Meyer to make a movie that all the hip, happening young fans of Easy Rider would flock to see, Meyer dragged young (but not at all hip or happening) Ebert down from Chicago to Hollywood to work on a script.

In a few weeks, Ebert bashed out Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a frenetic, psychedelic extravaganza about an all-girl rock band and their young, decadent, sexually ambiguous pals — directed by a raving heterosexual WWII veteran who hated modern music and all its commie pinko hippie pomps and works.

Meyer directed his actors not to blink for some reason, and, more importantly, never told them they were starring in a comedy — all the better to wring out their most serious, histrionic performances.

And keeping a straight face must have been hard for performers obliged to utter such Ebert-penned gems as “this is my happening and it freaks me out!” — later lifted with a wink by Mike Meyers for his Austin Powers films — and “you will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!”

YouTube Preview Image

In 2003, Ebert — now a Pulitzer Prize winner and beloved movie critic whose trademarked “thumbs up” could (rightly or wrongly) make or break a film — looked back:

It may be one of the 10 best movies of the 1970s, as the critic Richard Corliss once said, or it may be saddled with a script by a neophyte screenwriter, as Gene Siskel once said, but “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” was one of the great experiences of my life. (…)

The story came from my own inflamed imagination, stoked by Meyer’s love of absurd melodrama. I remember one day when I started laughing uproariously at about page 104 . “What’s the matter?” Meyer shouted. I hurried into his office. “Z-Man is a girl!” I said. “He’s what?” he asked. “Z-Man has been a woman all along!” I explained. “He reveals his secret to Wonder Boy during the orgy scene!” Meyer nodded judiciously. “You can never have too many women in the picture.” (…)

Thirty-three years after the film’s first release, it remains an indestructible cult classic, long ignored by the studio, unavailable on video, sometimes seen on cable, still finding new fans. Students at the University of Colorado performed their own stage version for me at Boulder five years ago. When the film had its 20th anniversary screening in 1990 at the University of Southern California, the students recited the dialogue in unison with the screen. When it played at the University of Texas, an academic declared, “On a structural level, Meyer is, absurd as it may seem, the logical successor to Sergei Eisenstein.”

I suspect the finished Roger Ebert/Russ Meyer biopic will turn out to be something like Almost Famous-in-Tinseltown, or Tim Burton’s Ed Wood: an earnest, even wholesome appreciation of an eccentric, twisted visionary and his gang of nutty friends, who lived in what we think of fondly as a more innocent time.

Until it comes out, expect plenty of heated debate about who should play the late Chicago Sun Times columnist, whose death earlier this year saddened millions of fans.

(Of course, the conservatives who were his favorite targets on Twitter late in his life mostly issued polite condolences.)

So let’s play casting couch potato:

Add your suggestions about who should play whom in the comments.

YouTube Preview Image

(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 15th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
As long as they leave out the last 15 years of his life where he was an unbearable, pompous ass, it should be a drive-in favorite where the liberals can watch it whilst smoking some pot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are no statues of critics.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm sure this movie will be a critical masterpiece; every left wing extremist, tinkerbell and Hollywood elitist will SWEAR it's the best film ever made. They'll point to the handful of it's oscar nominations as proof.
Alas, the message will be lost on hundreds of millions of American like me who will not spend the $10-15 movie ticket price on a worthless piece of crap like this.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Counting down until Ebert's wife / widow elbows her way to the forefront, and attempts to take over the project. (She can be played by Michelle Obama in the movie ... which I will never, ever, watch.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I hate to ask the obvious quesiton but do we really NEED a film biography of Roger Ebert? He didn't cure cancer, didn't fight gallantly in a war, didn't feed the hungry and didn't do anything that could be described as bettering the human condition. He was just one more film critic in a nation that is eyebrow deep in such persons. Maybe his relationship with Russ Meyer was sort of interesting but can it carry a two-hour film? As for casting the part - Who cares? There aren't too many chubby leading men in Hollywood. Maybe the chameleon-like Johnny Depp will put on a couple of pounds and get the part. And there's always Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Will the biopic about Ebert be a winner or a bomb? Depends totally on who's been hired to write the screenplay. Shaidle doesn't even consider that factor. Maybe because she believes, along with the other 98%, that film is a visual medium and only the director counts. Sorry to introduce a little reality into the subject of film but it's all about the script. So if someone with brains, passion, talent and perseverance is hired on as writer, well then the film stands a chance of being first rate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Er, Ricpic:

The "bust," er, line was simply a cutesy pun on Meyer's favorite type of female.

LIghten up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
True story - Some years ago a friend and I were watching a Russ Meyer flick on VCR. I can't remember which one and the fact that we were drinking heavily may have had something to do with it. One of us got the bright idea of actually calling Russ Meyer and telling him what a great guy we thought he was. (Did I mention that I was drunk?) We called the phone number on the VCR jacket for Meyer's production company in San Diego. To our amazement Russ himself answered. Turned out that he was running his operation out of his home at this time. We described ourselves as fans of his ourve and he was sort of gruff but ultimately couldn't have been nicer. (I think he had been drinking too.) He patiently answered questions from two drunken idiots for about fifteen minutes and told us were we could more easily purchase Russ Meyer products. Try doing that with Steven Spielberg.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
best comment ever!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
True. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Desperate for material, Hollywood has hit the abyss when films about mediocre malcontents are considered worthy of bankrolling. Gene Siskel brought life to the duo. Ebert sulked. If Ebert hadn't suffered for a long period with facial cancer, scant few would have remembered him today.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ebert was a knowledgable film critic who knew how to write, but he was a confirmed leftist, which strongly affected his take on movies. I followed him from when he was a columnist at the Daily Illini at the University of Illinois through his career as a film critic and TV personality. He and Siskel were a great team. They worked well together but often disagreed, which created a certain tension between them.

While Beyond the Valley of the Dolls may have been hip or camp back in the 1970s, its value can be judged by all the great screenwriting jobs Ebert got afterwards. I see no value in making a film about Ebert and Meyer collaborating on this movie - but it's often hard to understand Hollywood values and choices.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The only thing I find more tedious than celebrities are movies about them. Yes, I'm a cultural snob. I feel that one of most disastrous cultural events of the 20th century was the elevation of people so mundane that you probably wouldn't even want to have a drink with them into mega-celebrities. The more celebrated the vapid became, the less we saw of genuine talent. These day you watch a movie and it's hard to tell the characters apart because they all look so much alike. Are they chosen for their cookie-cutter appearance? This does make them archetypes and easier to process, I guess. Or do they all just go to the same plastic surgeon? Actors used to have individuality, quirkiness and actresses had glamour and mystery. Now that the actors are all so much alike the only thing that matters is the script and the special effects. Thank God for TCM!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All