When biopics become a true crime

Although Isobel and Michelle cover a wide gamut of art world headlines in this week’s episode of ‘Crimes Against Art’, the topic of a planned Frida Kahlo musical was certainly jail worthy

Crimes Against Podcast - Episode Three 'Artful Shenanigans'

A profusion of biopics has appeared in recent years spurred by the rise of streaming platforms and the apparent lack of any other interesting topic.

There doesn’t seem to be a single minor pop cultural figure who does not have a Netflix documentary and an Amazon Prime mini-series. These telescoped visions of celebrity life give less insight into the lives of celebrities as they do our fascination with peering over the fence to spy on our neighbours.

Biopics speak to a deep desire to sensationalise and serialise. Anyone’s life would be interesting if our daily routines and interactions were subsumed into some narrative of constant despair or unrivalled triumph.

The menial is transformed into the transcendental simply because it is not our own life.

The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is one of the latest figures to be subjected to the biopic treatment. This time, however as a Broadway musical.

Although purported to be a “celebration of the painter’s resilience and passion,” I question why we need such celebration in the form of a musical. With Kahlo’s life already dramatized as a film starring Salma Hayek as well as numerous other documentaries on her life, she has become a pinup for creative free spirits with flower crowns in their hair.

The iconisation of the Mexican surrealist has been greatly aided by the various tea towels and mugs that pepper gift stores

Although a Broadway musical will undoubtedly bring Kahlo’s work to a new audience, the tropes inherent in musical theatre will do little to humanise her work, and instead, contribute to the current perception of Kahlo as an art world character rather than an artist.

When her work is already so steeped in biographical details, Kahlo has provided her audience with a means to understand her story. Importantly it is her story on her terms.

Anyone's life could be made into a musical, but rather than relying on second-hand accounts of third-rate details, surely we can go back to the source material and spend some time with the artwork that made Kahlo so fascinating in the first place.

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