Onward and Upward: Four Years of Blogging

November has, thus far, been rife with disappointment. On a personal level, I have slowly been making peace with my mother’s passing, less than two months ago, while weathering a relationship break-up that felt like a sucker punch. Regarding the former, it took several weeks to even register the fact that my mom was gone. As for the latter, I’ve been trying to assess what I must have done wrong, but am slowly coming to the conclusion that I will never know for sure. All I can say is that I haven’t been sleeping well.

On the world stage – and for the second occurrence in my lifetime – the better candidate for the United States Presidency won the popular vote but lost the election. And the other day, I logged onto social media to learn that one of my favorite mood poets, Leonard Cohen, had passed away at age 82.

At times like these, I tend towards the melancholy. I spent much of yesterday doing some archiving and came across a few blog posts from 2013. I realized that it was Election Day, 2012, when I moved to Mexico City and established gringopotpourri.com. My blog has changed a lot over the years. For one thing, the writing is better now than it was then. Darker, perhaps, but also better. The regionality of the content has also shifted from being mostly Mexico-focused to being largely Tennessee-focused.

To “celebrate” my blog’s four-year anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite posts for you, along with comments on how those posts either came to be or how they hold up today. And as always: Thanks for reading!

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Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)

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I recently watched an interesting pair of biopics that make for companion pieces of sorts. The first, “Unbroken,” a 2014 WWII drama directed by Angelina Jolie and taken from the book by Lauren Hillenbrand, reintroduces the world to Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the Torrance, CA-born long distance runner who made a splash at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 before joining the war effort, crashing into the Pacific, and spending two years in a Japanese POW camp. The second film, 2016’s “Race,” details the struggles of Ohio State graduate and African American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at those same Berlin Olympics – a new world record that made one Adolf Hitler none too pleased.

The two films complement each other in several ways. First, in “Unbroken,” we see a brief glance at the face of a black athlete in Berlin, and are supposed to assume that this is Owens. Second, both films depict, in that timeless sports drama tradition, the triumph over adversity and the struggle against impossible odds. Third – and a detriment to both films – they “whitewash” later aspects of their characters’ lives. The takeaway from Hillenbrand’s book was that Zamperini dedicated his post-WWII life to God. This fact earns barely a mention at the end of Jolie’s film. As for Owens, he battled the IRS for much of his post-Olympics life, but that subplot didn’t make the final cut of “Race.” If that small detail doesn’t make for the most exciting of dramas, it at least grounds the athlete in Everyman reality. Zamperini and Owens were just people, same as the rest of us.

A good sports drama will show us what made its subject such a remarkable athlete. A great sports drama will complement – or at least counter – the character’s physical accomplishments with humanizing (or, in the case of “Raging Bull,” the best sports biography, dehumanizing) subplots. Only boxing films seem to get it right.

My work was cut out for me last month when I came up with a top ten list of biopics – movies about the lives of real people. How do you depict a life on screen? And who is to say what makes a life worthy of having a movie made about it? Several of the films I came up were larger-than-life epics. Adventure films like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Patton” earned a few places on the list. Others, like “Frida” and “The Imitation Game,” revolved around artists and inventors. One, the aforementioned “Raging Bull,” focused on a truly gifted – but truly monstrous – human being.

But there are more than just ten good stories out there. Here are ten more great screen biopics:

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Top Ten Screen Biopics

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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.

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