I recently watched the film “Mr. Turner,” a biopic from director Mike Leigh about the last 25 years in the life of British seascape painter HMW Turner. Although I love art, I must confess that I wasn’t too familiar with Turner’s work, as the majority of his collection is housed inside the Tate Britain, a museum that I have yet to visit. The movie suggested that Mr. Turner (played by Timothy Spall) was always composing art in his mind, and that he failed at most other aspects of life, including relationships, until he finally settled down with a widowed innkeeper late in life. The “script” for the film was conceived by Leigh yet was comprised largely of dialogue improvised by the cast during rehearsals prior to shooting. The result is a long movie of vignettes, some of them funny, linked by some of the most painterly cinematography I’ve seen in a film in a long time.
Naturally, I started thinking. What are the best screen biographies to come out of Hollywood, or out of cinema in general? The aforementioned, at times aimless “Mr. Turner” wouldn’t quite make the cut, but the “artist” category no doubt produced at least one-half dozen contenders in a single sub-genre. Ditto for the categories of actor/actress, singer/musician, athlete, politician/war hero, physically/mentally challenged, etc.