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Biopic vs biopic: Cinematographic life as a place for comparison

Organization: Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Categories: Comparative, Drama, Narratology
Event Date: 2020-09-15 Abstract Due: 2020-09-15

CALL FOR PAPERS N16 (Spring 2021)

Biopic vs biopic: Cinematographic life as a place for comparison

Over the last ten years, the biopic has been carried out by many relevant filmmakers —within and beyond the mainstream— and it has become a key genre in contemporary cinema. This fact is attested by titles like 'Carlos' (Olivier Assayas, 2010), 'J. Edgar' (Clint Eastwood, 2011), 'Hannah Arendt' (Margarethe von Trotta, 2012), 'Camille Claudel 1915' (Bruno Dumont, 2013), 'Saint Laurent' (Bertrand Bonello, 2014), 'Steve Jobs' (Danny Boyle, 2015), 'Neruda' (Pablo Larraín, 2016), 'Snowden' (Oliver Stone, 2016), 'First Man' (Damien Chazelle, 2018), 'Loro: International Cut' (Paolo Sorrentino, 2018), 'At Eternity’s Gate' (Julian Schnabel, 2018), 'Bohemian Rapsody' (Brian Synger, 2018), 'The Traitor' (Marco Bellocchio, 2019), 'Judy' (Rupert Goold, 2019), 'Rocketman' (Dexter Fletcher, 2019) and 'A Hidden Life' (Terrence Malick, 2019). At the same time, documentary biopics have increased, as in the case of 'George Harrison: Living in the Material World' (Martin Scorsese, 2011), 'The Salt of the Earth' (Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, 2014), 'Amy' (Asif Kapadia, 2015), 'Diego Maradona' (Asif Kapadia, 2019) and 'Pavarotti' (Ron Howard, 2019).

The diversity among these titles is proof of Belén Vidal’s statement in the prologue to the volume 'The Biopic in Contemporary Film Culture' (Belén Vidal and Tom Brown, eds., 2014): the term biopic —usually undervalued as a synonym of narrative restrictions and aesthetic conservatism— is also used to name a space that is open to formal experiments. That is the reason why, in the past decade, this genre has also received renewed attention in the academic world, with volumes like 'Whose Lives Are They Anyway? The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre' (Dennis Bingham, 2010), 'Biopic: de la réalité à la fiction' (Rémi Fontanel, ed., 2011) and 'Invented Lives, Invented Communities: The Biopic and American National Identity' (William H. Epstein and R. Barton Palmer, eds., 2016).

In this issue of 'Comparative Cinema', we want to approach the biopic from the specific perspective of comparative cinema. How much does the story of a lifetime allow to compare aesthetic and narrative differences between two separate works? Which biopic elements are especially relevant for a comparison? Rather than discovering what the comparison between two biopics reveals us, we are interested in how such comparison can be articulated and in finding out which of its elements can be the most fruitful. Some lines of work are suggested:

Biopic and life: biopics privilege certain moments of a trajectory. Which of the life chapters are the most revealing of narrative and aesthetic differences? Between the personal and the professional life, which one of them has a greater impact on the comparison between different biopics?

Biopic and film time: by its very definition, the biopic is developed throughout a long, well delimited period. How can the length of the portrayed period, the length of the film and the time dedicated to each event be compared between different works?

Biopic and star studies: biopics entail professional challenges for performers because they can strengthen or renew their star persona. How can a biopic be compared to other performances by the same actor? How can the real character and the previous roles of the performer be compared through specific gestures?

Biopic and authorship: some filmmakers have transformed the biopic into a sign of identity. Is it possible to find common elements between different biopics directed by the same author? How much do the author’s other films —not biopics— influence these biopics?

Biopic and documentary film: many characters have been biographed both in documentaries and fiction films. Moreover, the fiction biopic can sometimes include real images. How can comparison between a documentary biopic and a fiction biopic be articulated? How much does the biopic allow to approach methodologies about documentary film?

Priority shall be given to papers focused on cinema from the 2000-2020 period (or papers containing, at least, one film from this period in their comparison). Papers must be between 5000 and 6000 words long, including footnotes. The texts (in a Word format) and the images accompanying them must be sent through the RACO platform, available on the website of the journal.

This special issue is also open for publishing interviews that have been previously agreed with the editors. Suggestions can be sent to comparativecinema@upf.edu.

The time limit for receiving papers is the 15th of September 2020.


Comparative Cinema ISSN 2604-9821 (formerly Cinema Comparat/ive Cinema, ISSN 2014-8933) is a biannual publication. Published by the Center for Aesthetic Research on Audiovisual Media (CINEMA) of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), the journal specializes in the study of comparative cinema and the ways in which cinema is received and interpreted in different social and political contexts.

The publication aims to cover an original area of research, developing and establishing a series of methodologies for comparative studies in film. To that end, it also explores the relation between film and the traditions of comparative literature, and with other contemporary arts such as painting, photography, music, dance and audio-visual media.

Comparative Cinema is published in English (including original versions of the texts in multiple languages), with issues that come out twice per year.



Albert Elduque