Biopics

Yesterday I saw two biopics about geniuses suffering from mental illness, Pawn Sacrifice (2015), and Love & Mercy (2014).

I didn't really plan to see two movies that were so closely related in their subject matter, it just happened to go that way as I looked through the movies available on Amazon Prime. Love & Mercy had more of a popular response out of the two movies, but I thought Pawn Sacrifice was more interesting and had so many favorite actors of mine.

I hadn't seen many of the more recent films from Tobey Maguire but his portrayal of Bobby Fischer was intense and reminded me of the few documentaries I had seen about Mr. Fischer. Bobby Fischer was a huge star during the cold war in a way that doesn't exist now. It's odd to think of chess as a major spectator event, but at his peak, it was something people around the world really paid attention to. Mr. Fischer seemed eccentric as a celebrity, but as time moved on it seemed more and more clear how unhinged he was. He started to get more and more public about his conspiracy theories and antisemitism. The movie does a great job showing the formation of these views and the concern the people around him started to have while also trying to manage his chess playing career.

Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, and chameleon Michael Stuhlbarg do amazing jobs as supporting actors. Schreiber kind of goes above and beyond playing his part entirely in Russian with subtitles. Pawn Sacrifice ends its story in a moment of glory for the main character but the postscript is a sad ending of mental illness, homelessness, and prejudice.

Love & Mercy is the story of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys and his struggles with mental illness (seeminly caused by different drug issues), his controlling father, and his controlling guardian. This movie is especially interesting to see the song writing and music production process of the Brian Wilson character. It's odd because both of the movies exhibit concentration issues through sound similarly with Brian WIlson and Bobby Fischer.

Brian Wilson's story feels more intense and as though it lasts for a much loner period of time, and it has an interesting love story with Elizabeth Banks. I think the only thing that made me like Pawn Sacrifice more was that it felt like dropping into the documentaries of the chess championship in Iceland and the theater the competition took place in.

I do have one Beach Boys story that is in my family. In 1966 my father's cousin organized a concert at Shea Stadium with Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys. My dad was able lucky enough as a 19 year old to be the person with a friend of his to tell the acts they are about to go on stage. He said Stevie Wonder, who was just 16 years old at the time, was amazing to see performing. Apparently there was a part of the show that he was playing the drums and was so energized that he broke a few sticks. Someone would hand him new sticks mid-performance and he would just keep playing along. My dad and his friend got to tell the Beach Boys they were ready to come on stage from the Mets clubhouse that they were warming up in and they took a convertible to the stage. Years later my dad recounted the story with his friend. My dad said "yeah, they were pretty cool," his friend said, "well, they were pretty high," and my dad looked at him in shock or realization not realizing what had been going on while he was working at the show.

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