x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Elton John wants to create a biopic in his own image

The past weeks have been rife with talk of an Elton John biopic, a "jukebox musical" titled Rocket Man, with a screenplay co-penned with Billy Elliot's Lee Hall.

Elton John performing in Sydney, Nova Scotia, last September. Steve Wadden / Cape Breton Post / The Canadian Press / AP Photo
Elton John performing in Sydney, Nova Scotia, last September. Steve Wadden / Cape Breton Post / The Canadian Press / AP Photo

Pity the once-flamboyant pop star entering his 65th year. He bemoans the fact that his songs don't get played on pop radio stations any more. He collaborates with Kate Bush and somehow manages to sound odder than Stephen Fry, the comedy turn on her new record 50 Words For Snow. He writes a well-received tune for the animation Gnomeo & Juliet, roping in flavour of the moment Lady Gaga to help him sing it, but gets beaten to the Golden Globe for Best Original Song by a howlingly cloying effort courtesy of Madonna. And in an embarrassing judgement on the calibre of the field, on February 27 just two tunes are up for a Best Song Academy Award. His is not one of them.

But Elton John will not be cowed. Somebody has to pay for the childcare now he's an older father, after all, and he's about to start up his residency at Caesar's Palace again - playing on a US$1 million (Dh3.67m) piano, no less. But more interestingly, the nascent weeks of 2012 have been rife with talk of an Elton John biopic. It gets better. He won't beatifically look on from afar as a young director works out which pair of magnificently ridiculous glasses might best characterise his glory years. Incredibly, not only is Elton John the executive producer on a film he's calling Rocket Man, he's helped fashion the screenplay with the Billy Elliot scriptwriter Lee Hall and has even announced his first choice for the lead role - Justin Timberlake. Short of playing himself, it's just about the most egotistical and self-indulgent act of pop stardom since Prince took to the stage at Madison Square Garden with his own face printed on his shirt.

It's traditional for the best musical biopics to be created as acts of tribute to people whose fulsome lives have ended. James Mangold's Walk the Line, which received five Oscar nominations in 2006 for its portrayal of the rise to fame of the country music artist Johnny Cash in the 1950s and 1960s, was released two years after the man in black died. Mangold was keen to emphasise that he only began writing the film because he loved the man, the music and his story. La Vie en Rose, the beguiling story of the mid-20th century French singer Edith Piaf, won Marion Cotillard an Oscar in the lead role. At the time, the director Olivier Dahan referred to Piaf as the perfect example of someone who did not separate her life from her art, and he wasn't afraid to explore the darker recesses of her existence. He didn't have or need Piaf over his shoulder, reminding him that "je ne regrette rien".

And although Ray Charles was still alive when Jamie Foxx was shooting the scenes that would snaffle him the Best Actor Oscar in 2005, he had little involvement with Taylor Hackford's film beyond reading the script in Braille and objecting to a few scenes. True, Bob Dylan was - and is - still very much alive when Todd Haynes wrote and directed the spectacularly odd biopic, I'm Not There. But since Cate Blanchett played one of the incarnations of the singer-songwriter, we're guessing Dylan probably wasn't too bothered about the accuracy of the piece.

There is a chance, though, that Rocket Man will follow a similar path to that film. "It's going to be a surreal look at my life, not just factual, more in the manner of a Moulin Rouge," John told the Los Angeles Times this month. "I just don't want it to be a normal biopic because my life hasn't been like that."

"Not just factual"? This is the man who admitted he spent £293,000 (Dh1.7 million) on flowers in 13 months, who was the chairman of a provincial football club in his 20s, who turned from chubby pub bluesman to a 250 million-selling glam rocker in a matter of years, played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and adopted a baby boy in his 60s. There's no need to massage the facts into something more surreal - his life is already quite, quite bizarre.

But we're talking Elton John here. This is the man who sells his second-hand clothes in a pop-up shop called Elton's Closet for charity and counsels the rapper Eminem, of all people. He's serious. Sometimes. And he is determined that Rocket Man will be a "jukebox musical", which, as anyone who laughed at the sheer madness of Mamma Mia! will know, is horrifying code for shoehorning hits into ridiculous plot developments. So we may well see Justin Timberlake bidding goodbye to a brick road that some workmen are busy painting yellow. The camera might meaningfully pan away from a candle blowing in the wind. But if there is a scene where John is playing Crocodile Rock in a swamp surrounded by reptiles, then we can only hope it's as good as when he did just that on The Muppet Show in 1972.

Yes, bizarre just about says it all.

artslife@thenational.ae

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