10 Films to Watch if You Like The Greatest Showman

Inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman has been one of the cinematic success stories of 2018. Starring Hugh Jackman as the controversial entrepreneur, this musical extravaganza has caught the imagination of audiences of all ages. So, Cinema Paradiso invites you to sample a selection of pictures that you might want to try if you liked The Greatest Showman...

Once in a while, a film takes everyone by surprise. The critics were largely underwhelmed by Michael Gracey's directorial debut and the early box-office figures weren't particularly special. But word of mouth helped turn The Greatest Showman into a sleeper hit and its soundtrack album keeps breaking records. Indeed, after spending 24 weeks at No.1 in the UK album charts in 2018, it is now the most successful soundtrack recording since Robert Wise's The Sound of Music (1965).

Several theories have been propounded to explain the film's appeal, with some pointing to its uplifting sense of feel-good escapism and others crediting the blend of individualism and togetherness that manages - like the songs that dot the action - to feel both contemporary and nostalgic. But a number of commentators have identified The Greatest Showman as a totem of Trumpism, as it completely reinvents Phineas Taylor Barnum by turning a disreputable huckster with a reputation for exploitation and racial stereotyping into a heroic champion of minorities and the marginalised who created an inclusive and accepting environment that allowed them to be themselves.

For those who still don't know it, the storyline centres on P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), who is raising daughters Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely) with his childhood sweetheart, Charity (Michelle Williams). when he loses his clerking job with a New York shipping company. Raising funds by duplicitous means, he opens Barnum's American Museum of Curiosities on Broadway to exhibit a range of wax and stuffed models. However, on the suggestion of his daughters, Barnum turns his attraction into a circus to showcase the distinctive talents of a cast of so-called 'freaks'.

In an effort to attract a better class of patron, Barnum enlists the help of playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who arranges for the company to meet Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. While in London, Barnum becomes bewitched by singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and offers to manage 'the Swedish Nightingale' if she comes to America. However, she starts to develop feelings for Barnum, just as Carlyle loses his heart to Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), an African-American trapeze artist who is looked down upon by his haughty parents.

Scripted by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, the narrative is somewhat unreliable as biography, as it not only tweaks the truth, but it also omits inconvenient facts that don't fit its thesis that Barnum was a showman who always had the best interests of his acts at heart. Despite being eager to present him as a child of poverty who triumphed in the face of adversity and prejudice, the screenplay ignores some colourful incidents in Barnum's youth, including a spell behind bars for a libel committed while he was editing his own newspaper in his twenties.

More understandably, however, there is no mention of Barnum's first exhibit, Joice Heth, a blind and almost completely paralysed slave in her late seventies, who was purchased for $1000, billed as 'The Greatest Natural and National Curiosity in the World' and forced to pose for 10-12 hours a day as George Washington's 161 year-old nurse. When she died in 1836, Barnum charged admission to her autopsy, a shameful act of disrespect that the film-makers clearly didn't feel they could sanitise with a jaunty tune.

In fact, Barnum went on to become an abolitionist and this spirit informs the subplot involving a pair of entirely fictional characters, Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler, who cling together at a time when inter-racial romance was simply not tolerated in supposedly polite society. Phineas and Charity also endure some invented bumps in their own road to happiness (there was never a hint of a liaison between Barnum and Jenny Lind, for example), while the facts are often blurred in the backstories of bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) and the diminutive Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey), whom Barnum billed as General Tom Thumb. Barnum is presented as the saviour of these adult wretches when, in reality, he bought Stratton when he was just four and Lutz (whose real name was Annie Jones) when she was nine months old. But Barnum would not have objected to the movie taking such liberties, as he was always aware of the value of printing the legend (as Carleton Young so memorably puts it in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962).

An inveterate opportunist with boundless energy and a penchant for taking risks, Barnum seems like the perfect poster boy for the American Dream. Yet he is played by Australian Hugh Jackman, who kept faith with a project that was first announced in 2009. It was Jackman who insisted that visual effects artist Michael Gracey was afforded the opportunity to make his feature bow after they had worked together on a Lipton ice tea commercial. Moreover, it was Jackman in his role as co-producer who lobbied for the music and lyrics to be written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who had won a Tony for their score for the 2015 Broadway show, Dear Evan Hansen, and the Oscar for Best Song for 'City of Stars', which was one of the highlights of Damien Chazelle's phantom Best Picture winner, La La Land (2016). The duo repaid his choice by winning a Golden Globe for 'This Is Me', which was also nominated for an Academy Award and resulted in Pasek and Paul being hired by Disney to write songs for the upcoming live-action versions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Aladdin (1992).

Speaking of Disney reboots, co-scenarist Bill Condon directed Beauty and the Beast (2017), while his wider musicals experience encompasses an Oscar-cited writing credit on Rob Marshall's Best Picture-winning Chicago (2002) and Dreamgirls (2006). He is also no stranger to biopics, having directed Gods and Monsters (1998) and Kinsey (2004), which respectively centred on British film-maker James Whale and American sexologist Alfred Kinsey. The former was adapted from Christopher Bram's novel, Father of Frankenstein, and earned Condon an Oscar. However, he also landed the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (2012), having been nominated for the same award the previous year for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1.

Among Condon's other credits are The Fifth Estate (2013) and Mr Holmes (2015). He also directed the pilot of The Big C (2010), which was created by his collaborator on The Greatest Showman, Jenny Bicks. Having started out writing for shows like Seinfeld (1989-98) and Dawson's Creek (1998-2003), Bicks created the short-lived series, Leap of Faith (2002), before working on all six seasons of Sex and the City (1998-2004). In addition to further small-screen credits on Men in Trees (2006-08) and Divorce (2016-), Bicks has also written such features as Dennie Gordon's What a Girl Wants (2003) and Carlos Saldanha's Rio 2 (2014). She even has a single acting credit, as Miss Haskell in Garry Marshall's Never Been Kissed (1999), after she was talked into taking a cameo while doing on-set rewrites.

Very much a film star in the classical mould, Hugh Jackman is a likely future contender for Cinema Paradiso's Getting to Know slot. But there are also other chances to become better acquainted with P.T. Barnum, although Wallace Beery's turns in Sidney Franklin's A Lady's Morals (1930) and Walter Lang's The Mighty Barnum (1934) are not among those currently available on disc. Some will recall seeing Michael Crawford on stage in the West End in 1981 in Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart's stage musical, Barnum!. But 'the Prince of Humbug' has also made a number of screen appearances.

Burl Ives was a larger than life Barnum in Don Sharp's sci-fi caper, Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon (1967), while John Ratzenberger cast the character in a whole new light as circus owner P.T. Flea in John Lasseter's Pixar animation, A Bug's Life (1998). The destruction of the American Museum is shown in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002), in which Barnum was played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths, while Billy Zane took the role on television in the 2017 'Freakshow' episode of DC's Legends of Tomorrow (2016-).

Unusually, The Greatest Showman was premiered aboard RMS Queen Mary 2 on 8 December 2017, just a few months after the final performance under the big top given by Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It has gone on to gross over $504 million worldwide, which makes it the third-most successful live-action musical of all time after Beauty and the Beast and Randal Kleiser's Grease (1978). Moreover, being something of a gamble in the Barnum tradition, it marked a triumphant return to musicals for Fox, which had helped bring about an end the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical with a string of expensive misfires, including Richard Fleischer's Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Robert Wise's Gertrude Lawrence biopic, Star! (1968), which had been the respective follow-ups for Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews to two Oscar-winning classics, George Cukor's My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music.

The critics either raved or raged about The Greatest Showman. But, while it may not stand close historical scrutiny because of its 'fake news' approach to factual accuracy, there's no doubting its credentials as a piece of polished entertainment, whose mix of song and spectacle has done much to revive the declining practice of family viewing. Now, what else can we tempt you with?

  • Freaks (1932)

    1h 0min

    At the end of The Greatest Showman, a caption quotes P.T. Barnum's claim that 'the noblest art is that of making others happy'. The film stresses how he created a sanctuary for those whom society had scorned and spurned. But some have accused the film-makers of perpetuating the exploitation and degradation of the defenceless through calculated empathy and understanding and similar charges were laid against Tod Browning's hugely controversial drama about a group of sideshow attractions who take revenge on Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor), the acrobat and strongman who plot to poison Hans (Harry Earles), a performer with dwarfism who has inherited a fortune.

    Browning (who had run away to join the circus as a boy) had considered Tod Robbins's 1923 short story, 'Spurs', as a vehicle for silent star Lon Chaney - who was played by James Cagney in Joseph Pevney's Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). Initially, producer Irving G. Thalberg wanted to cast Myrna Loy as Cleopatra and Jean Harlow as the seal trainer, Venus. But, while he resisted MGM's efforts to cancel the production, Thalberg was so dismayed by the San Diego preview response that he cut almost 30 minutes of footage, much of which had been designed to counter prejudice by showing the so-called 'freaks' as everyday people. In a bid to recoup his losses, Thalberg reissued the picture as Nature's Mistakes in 1933, while exploitation maverick Dwain Esper was allowed to show a version branded Forbidden Love on the 'educational' circuit in 1948.

    Despite influencing such diverse films as Edmund Goulding's Nightmare Alley (1947) and Luis Bunuel's Viridiana (1961), Freaks was banned in Britain for 30 years and only started to be accepted as a significant film after its revival at Cannes in 1962. It has since been remade as Byron Mabe and Donn Davison's She Freak (1967) and Drew Bell's Freakshow (2007). As for some of its much-maligned stars, Johnny Eck took uncredited roles alongside Johnny Weissmuller in W.S. Van Dyke's Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Richard Thorpe's Tarzan Escapes (1936) and Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941); Harry and Daisy Earles appeared in Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Angelo Rossitto enjoyed a long screen career that included a stint as Shirley Temple's stunt double, as well as credits in pictures like Wallace Fox's The Corpse Vanishes (1942) and George Miller's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

    Director:
    Tod Browning
    Cast:
    Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Drama
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

    2h 49min

    Among the impresarios who flourished in Barnum's wake was Florenz Ziegfeld, who also discovered a singing sensation while on tour in Europe. Polish-born French chanteuse Anna Held gave her common-law husband the idea to create an American version of the extravaganzas staged at the famous Folies Bergères in Paris and the Ziegfeld Follies were launched in 1907. Future stars like W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Ruth Etting. Marilyn Miller and Will Rogers started out in revues that included songs by such prominent composers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, who would make seminal contributions to the Hollywood musical in the 1930s. Held divorced Ziegfeld after he met actress Billie Burke and they remained married until his death in 1932. She sold the rights to Ziegfeld's story to his protégé, William Anthony McGuire, who persuaded Universal to sponsor a lavish biopic. Shortly after A. Edward Sutherland began directing the feature, however, it became clear that the studio couldn't afford the project and MGM agreed to take it over, even though it would require its biggest budget for a talkie. Having become established as a popular duo in W.S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man (1934), William Powell and Myrna Loy were cast as Ziegfeld and Burke, while Austrian actress Luise Rainer was hired to play Held. She went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress and became the first and only woman to win the Oscar in consecutive years when she also triumphed in Sidney Franklin's The Good Earth (1937).

    In addition to serving as a consultant on the picture, Burke also landed a seven-year contract with MGM. She memorably played Glinda the Good in Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), Roland Young's wife in Roy Del Ruth's Topper Returns (1941) and Elizabeth Taylor's mother-in-law in Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951). She also gave the studio permission to use her late husband's name in the titles of Robert Z. Leonard's Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and the multi-directored Ziegfeld Follies (1946), which featured Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly's only dance duet. In 1968, Walter Pidgeon played Ziegfeld in William Wyler's Fanny Brice biopic, Funny Girl (1968), which earned Barbra Streisand a place in Oscar history when she tied for the Best Actress award with Katharine Hepburn for Anthony Harvey's The Lion in Winter.

  • Trapeze (1956)

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    1h 42min

    It might seem strange to select Carol Reed's circus picture over Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), especially as it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and featured extras drawn from the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. However, Ringling's Eddie Ward also served as a consultant on this simmering melodrama and even doubled for Burt Lancaster during some of the more difficult tricks. Not that Lancaster needed much assistance, however, as he and Nick Cravat had formed the Lang and Cravat acrobatic act before an injury had forced Lancaster to quit the Kay Brothers circus in 1939. In fact, Cravat - who had appeared alongside Lancaster in Robert Siodmak's The Crimson Pirate (1952) - also stood in for his old pal during one aerial sequence, although tragedy did strike when Gina Lollobrigida's stunt double, Sally Marlowe, fell to her death on the set.

    In the story, which was adapted from Max Catto's novel, The Killing Frost, Lancaster and Lollobrigida are joined at the Circus Bouglione by Tony Curtis, a cocky trapeze artist who is convinced that he can emulate Lancaster by performing the dangerous triple somersault. But the plot bears a similarity to the one in E.A. Dupont's silent masterpiece, Varieté (1925), which ranks alongside Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954) and Max Ophüls's Lola Montès (1955) among the great arthouse circus pictures.

    Much of the big-top action was filmed at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris, with the character played by Thomas Gomez being based on its owner, Joseph Bouglione. Lancaster was recognised for his performance with the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival and, three decades later, he took the title role in Lee Philips's TV-movie, Barnum (1986), which co-starred Hanna Schygulla as Jenny Lind and Lorena Gale as Joice Heth. Moreover, he reunited with Curtis on another exploration of hucksterism, Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957), which was turned into a Broadway musical by Marvin Hamlisch in 2002.

    Director:
    Carol Reed
    Cast:
    Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Gina Lollobrigida
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Carousel (1956)

    2h 3min

    Atonement is a key theme that The Greatest Showman shares with the most underrated on Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's timeless musicals. Directed for 20th Century-Fox by Henry King, the story of a carnival barker who only sees the error of his ways after paying the ultimate price struck a chord with American audiences when the show first opened on Broadway during the Second World War, as it suggested that the spirit of lost loved ones lived on in those left behind. Such sentiments seemed maudlin when the film was released at the start of the rock'n'roll era, however, and Carousel proved a commercial disappointment. But the Merseybeat band, Gerry and the Pacemakers, scored a No.1 hit with 'You'll Never Walk Alone', which quickly became the anthem for Liverpool Football Club, which had just been promoted back to Division One under its exuberant Scottish manager, Bill Shankly, who is profiled in Mike Todd's documentary, Shankly: Nature's Fire (2017).

    Hungarian writer Ferenc Molnar had refused to allow opera composer Giacomo Puccini to adapt his 1909 play, Liliom. However, he liked Hammerstein's approach to its discussion of class, emasculation and legacy, as well as his decision to restage the action in Maine in the 1870s, and gave him permission to musicalise a story that had previously been filmed under its original title by Frank Borzage in 1930 and Fritz Lang in 1934. Borzage's silent version is available to rent from Cinema Paradiso on a dual disc with Lucky Star (1929).

    Frank Sinatra had already recorded his songs as Billy Bigelow when he discovered that Fox planned to shoot the film in both 35mm and the new CinemaScope 55 format. As he insisted that he only had one good take in him and refused to make two pictures for the price of one, Sinatra was replaced by Gordon MacRae, after Gene Kelly refused to let his singing voice be dubbed. MacRae wasn't the most nuanced actor, but his rendition of the famous 'Soliloquoy' is powerful and poignant and he teamed effectively with Shirley Jones, with whom he had co-starred in another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Fred Zinnemann's Oklahoma! (1955). While making such diverse movies as Richard Brooks's Elmer Gantry (1960) and John Gulager's Zombie Night (2013), Jones also went on to also co-star with her pop star stepson, David Cassidy, in the bubblegum TV series, The Partridge Family (1970-74).

  • Abba: The Movie (1977)

    1h 35min

    Such was Jenny Lind's contribution to music in Britain in the latter part of her life that she was honoured with a plaque in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. In addition to opera diva Grace Moore's appearances in A Lady's Morals (1930) and Arthur Robison's Jenny Lind (1932), Lind was also played by Virginia Bruce in The Mighty Barnum (1934) and by Ilse Werner in Peter Paul Brauer's The Swedish Nightingale (1941), which centred on her relationship with children's author Hans Christian Andersen. Werner is featured in Rüdiger Suchsland's excellent documentary, Hitler's Hollywood (2017), which also discusses another Swedish chanteuse, Zarah Leander, who was one of the Führer's favourite stars and a clip from her 1938 musical, Heimat, crops up in Edgar Reitz's Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (1984).

    Rebecca Ferguson's singing is dubbed in The Greatest Showman by Loren Allred, who had reached the final of the American version of The Voice. But Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad do all their own singing in Lasse Hallström's amusing record of ABBA's 1977 tour of Australia. When not performing on stage with Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, Agnetha and Anni-Frid are whisked between venues, hotels and airports by a security team that is intent on preventing radio DJ Robert Hughes from securing the interview he needs to keep his job.

    Very much influenced by Richard Lester's Beatle classic A Hard Day's Night (1964) - right down to the recurring joke about how clean ABBA are - this neglected rockumentary is full of wonderful music and very much benefits from the fact that Hallström (who would go on to receive Oscar nominations for My Life As a Dog, 1985 and The Cider House Rules, 1999) knew the band so well having directed so many of their videos, which often cheekily referenced Ingmar Bergman's use of Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson's faces in Persona (1966). Indeed, there is also a hint of the magic lantern sequence from Fanny and Alexander (1983) in the scene in The Greatest Showman in which Barnum casts moving shadows on to the sheets drying on the tenement rooftop.

  • 84 Charing Cross Road (1986)

    1h 35min

    Despite being ordered to stay away from his daughter by Benjamin Hallett (Fredric Lehne), the young Phineas Barnum (Ellis Rubin) keeps in touch with Charity (Skylar Dunn) by letter after she is sent away to finishing school. Ziv Zaifman provides Phin's singing voice for 'A Million Dreams', a deftly edited montage number that shows the sweethearts exchanging news, hopes and emotions, as they grow into adults. At one point, Phin slips a missive into the shoulder bag of a mailman on his rounds and, in so doing, brings to mind the posties in such films as Jacques Tati's Jour de Fête (1949) and Dorota Kobiela's Loving Vincent (2017). Numerous films have been built around the correspondence between lovers, including Alejandro Agresti's The Lake House (2006), Richard Lagravenese's P.S. I Love You (2007) and Lasse Hallström's Dear John (2010). However, a handful of pictures have focused on the letters sent between friends, including Garry Marshall's Beaches (1988), Adam Elliot's deeply poignant Clayography animation, Mary and Max (2009), and David Jones's charming adaptation of a 1982 play by James Roose-Evans that was based on Helene Hanff's memoir of her epistolary exchanges with Frank Doel, which started when she spotted an advertisement for the antiquarian bookshop Marks & Co. in the Saturday Review of Literature in 1949.

    Despite the bond that grew up between them, Doel and Hanff never met, although the latter paid a visit to the empty Charing Cross Road shop in 1971 and recorded her thoughts in The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Anne Bancroft earned the BAFTA for Best Actress for her performance as Hanff, while Judi Dench discovered a new love for cinema after playing Doel's wife, Nora, a character created for the screen by writer Hugh Whitemore. The film not only reunited Bancroft with Anthony Hopkins after Richard Attenborough's Young Winston (1972), but it also enabled him to collaborate again with her husband, Mel Brooks, who had produced David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), a biopic of John Merrick, who had been exhibited as a freak in Victorian London.

    Director:
    David Hugh Jones
    Cast:
    Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Prestige (2006)

    Play trailer
    2h 5min

    With rumours abounding about a sequel to The Greatest Showman, Hugh Jackman is proving to be a showman in his own right, as he is due to embark upon a world tour performing songs from both this film and Tom Hooper's Les Miserables (2012), for which he won a Golden Globe for his display as Jean Valjean. It was this flair that convinced Christopher Nolan to cast Jackman in his 2006 adaptation of Christopher Priest's 1995 novel, The Prestige.

    Set in late 19th-century London, the story centres on the rivalry that develops between Robert 'The Great Danton' Angier (Jackman) and Alfred 'The Professor' Borden (Christian Bale) after a misfiring trick results in the death of Angier's wife, Julia (Piper Perabo). At the heart of the action (which took Nolan and his writer brother Jonathan five years to craft) are the fabled Transported Man trick and a cloning machine devised by the scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). But, for all the spectacle and audacity that brought Oscar nominations for cinematographer Wally Pfister and production designer Nathan Crowley, this is also a thoughtful treatise on class, secrecy, obsession, sacrifice and the difference between illusion and reality.

    The 1890s was a golden age for stage magic, with the likes of John Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant dazzling audiences at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, where the latter introduced moving pictures into his act, thanks to Robert Paul's Theatrograph (see the BFI collection, R.W. Paul: The Complete Surviving Films, 1895-1908). Among those to witness their feats was French conjuror Georges Méliès, who abandoned the stage to become a full-time film-maker and the father of screen science fiction with outings like A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), which can be found on the BFI's Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers (1910). His achievement is commemorated in Jacques Meny's documentary, Méliès the Magician (1997), and Martin Scorsese's Hugo (2011), which was based on Brian Selznick's 2007 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

    Director:
    Christopher Nolan
    Cast:
    Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray, DVD
  • Me and Orson Welles (2009)

    Play trailer
    1h 54min

    Fans of Zac Efron would have known all about his talents as a song-and-dance man after his star-making turns as Troy Bolton in Kenny Ortega's High School Musical (2006), High School Musical 2 (2007) and High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008). Moreover, he had also excelled as Link Larkin in Adam Shankman's Hairspray (2007), a musicalisation of 'Pope of Trash' John Waters's 1988 comedy of the same name. The heartthrob boyfriend of Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), Link was based on Elvis Presley, who made 31 movies between Robert D. Webb's Love Me Tender (1956) and William A. Graham's Change of Habit (1969), the majority of which are available from Cinema Paradiso. As well as being the subject of numerous documentaries, 'The King' has also been played on screen by the likes of Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's Elvis (1979) and Michael Shannon in Liza Johnson's Elvis & Nixon (2016). He also inspired the character of Memphis in George Miller's Happy Feet (2006), whose speaking and singing voice was provided by Hugh Jackman.

    Efron is no stranger to biopics himself. He is soon to be seen as serial killer Ted Bundy in Joe Berlinger's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, having previously portrayed Dr Charles Garrico in Parkland (2013), Peter Landesman's account of the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, and Dan Janjigian, who represented Armenia in the two-man bobsleigh event at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake before playing Chris-R, a character in Tommy Wiseau's infamously awful feature, The Room (2003), whose making was the subject of James Franco's The Disaster Artist (2017).

    However, Richard Samuels - Efron's character in Richard Linklater's adaptation of Robert Kaplow's novel, Me and Orson Welles - is a fictionalised version of 15 year-old Arthur Anderson, who found himself playing Lucius in the Boy Genius's 1937 Broadway production of Julius Caesar, which led to the formation of the famous Mercury Theatre company, whose epochal radio broadcast of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds on 30 October 1938 is recalled in John Ross's documentary, The Day That Panicked America (2005). Christian McKay earned a Best Supporting BAFTA nomination for his performance as Welles, whose extraordinary career is outlined in Chuck Workman's Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014) and Mark Cousins's The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018).

    Director:
    Richard Linklater
    Cast:
    Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • La La Land (2016)

    Play trailer
    2h 3min

    In many ways, La La Land is the ultimate student project, as director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz first had the idea for the film while at Harvard, while songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul started their collaboration at the University of Michigan. In between times, Chazelle made his directorial debut with the monochrome musical, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), which was inspired by 'city symphonies' like Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera (1929). He had also guided J.K. Simmons to an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work opposite Miles Teller in the drumming drama, Whiplash (2014). Meanwhile, Pasek and Paul had followed their college show, Edges (2005), with such New York stage offerings as White Noise: A Cautionary Musical, Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach and A Christmas Story: The Musical.

    Chazelle had wanted to cast Teller and Emily Watson, but she decamped to headline Disney's Beauty and the Beast, whose loss of Ryan Gosling proved to be La La Land's gain, as he signed on to play jazz pianist Sebastian Wilder opposite Emma Stone's struggling actress, Mia Dolan. Chazelle was keen to replicate the insouciant style of Jacques Demy's musicals, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), although he was also greatly influenced by the films of the latter's male lead, Gene Kelly, most notably Vincente Minnelli's Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951) and Kelly and Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (1952).

    Having already been paired in Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad (2013), Gosling and Stone had the feel of an old-time Hollywood romantic team, albeit closer in tone to William Powell and Myrna Loy than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Nevertheless, they sing and dance charmingly, with Stone handling 'Someone in the Crowd' and 'Audition' with considerable aplomb before duetting with Gosling on 'A Lovely Night' and 'City of Stars'. The latter won the Academy Award for Best Song, as La La Land followed converting all seven of its Golden Globe nods by equalling the record of 14 Oscar nominations set by Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve (1950) and James Cameron's Titanic (1997). Stone took the prize for Best Actress, but an infamous snafu saw Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway accidentally announce it as the Best Picture winner instead of Barry Jenkins's Moonlight (2016). Before turning to The Greatest Showman, Pasek and Paul wrote songs for Walt Dohrn's Trolls and Spike Brandt's Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz (both 2016), while Gosling went on to reunite with Chazelle on the Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man (2018).

    Director:
    Damien Chazelle
    Cast:
    Ian Wolfe, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
    Genre:
    Drama, Music & Musicals, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray
Interested in even more song and music filled films? Check out our Music & Musicals section!

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