Martin Scorsese’s Failure To Make His Frank Sinatra Film Highlights The Trouble With Biopics

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Despite signing on to bring the life of Frank Sinatra to the big screen back in 2009, Martin Scorsese won’t be telling the story any time soon. According to The Toronto Sun, the director has run into objections from Sinatra’s family and estate over the direction of the film’s story, mainly the details of the singer’s life that weren’t solely related to music. After some discussions, the director is finally saying he can’t do it:

“Certain things are very difficult for a family, and I totally understand,” Scorsese said. “But if they expect me to be doing it, they can’t hold back certain things. The problem is that the man was so complex. Everybody is so complex – but Sinatra in particular.”

The film would’ve starred Scorsese’s current long-running favorite Leonardo DiCaprio, possibly following their next collboration, but it now a lost cause. There are clearly plenty of lurid details that could be included in the Frank Sinatra story and it’s understandable that the family wouldn’t want to promote those things in a film. The legendary director was always aware of this and knew it would be a fight, discussing it in a revealing interview with Shortlist:

It’s very hard because here is a man who changed the entire image of the Italian-American. And that’s just one thing. Along with his political work, civil rights, the Mob…

We can’t go through the greatest hits of Sinatra’s life. We tried this already. Just can’t do it. So the other way to go is to have three or four different Sinatras. Younger. Older. Middle-aged. Very old. You cut back and forth in time – and you do it through the music. See what I’m saying? So that’s what we’re trying for. It’s very tricky [laughs].

Scorsese would just be the latest to run into issues with trying to tell a real story on film. Biopics are typically tough business, especially if that person is deceased and beloved like Sinatra is to so many. The way a person is portrayed on film might not be how they are in real life, but it is sometimes how their loved ones or estate might wish them to be portrayed. You could always attempt it without approval, like some sort of Citizen Kane type of fictional amalgam of a real person. But for the real deal, you’re at the behest of those left behind. Take what happened on the pending Freddie Mercury biopic and it’s former star Sacha Baron Cohen:

“A member of the band, I won’t say who, he said, ‘This is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle of the movie,’” Cohen recalled. “I go, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘Freddie dies.’” While Cohen assumed the band meant the film would be structured non-linearly like Pulp Fiction, he soon realized that they wanted the second half of the film to focus on how Queen carried on after Mercury’s death in 1991.

The actor soon left the project, claiming that the band and others wanted to create a more PG film that didn’t address many of the real world aspects of Mercury’s life. That’s the problem with most biopics, the story they tell isn’t always the story they should. And sometimes the most interesting aspects of a person, the layers that define them, are swept away because they might be unsavory.

Some films break that and it shows, far away from the same uplifting by the numbers story we usually get. That’s the kind of movie Sinatra deserves, so it’s understandable why Scorsese would drop his plans.

(Via Rolling Stone / Shortlist / Toronto Sun)