So it turns out I can be tricked into watching a biopic if a) I don't even know it's a biopic because it's about someone I never heard of and b) it's free (both libre and gratuit) on the internet and c) it's full of songs and d) I can look things up on Wikipedia during the boring bits.
Because face it, it's taken a while for movies and tv to ratchet up to their current fast pacing. Watching Old Who, for example, is an exercise in alternating hilarity and impatience. "The Leisure Hive" in particular starts with this really slow pan across a windy beach. We see a couple of deck chairs, and then the back of a tent. And when I say slow I mean it. For six seconds we see nothing but the back of the tent, and then finally we emerge to some more deck chairs and then just when you think we're going to see something interesting we're panning across the back of another tent. Five seconds, and remember these are only the seconds where there's nothing in the frame but the back of a tent - if you count from when we first see it to when we can't anymore it's eighteen seconds. So, finally we see more deck chairs. And we keep panning, and we keep panning, and then we reach -- a third tent. This one we escape a little more quickly and there's the sound of snoring, so I'm thinking something's about to happen, maybe in the next deck chair? The next? What about this one? Or maybe-- Noooo, not another tent!!!!
I don't use multiple exclamation marks lightly, people. The opening credits faded onto the beach at about 00:35 (the cross-dissolve takes a couple of seconds itself) and we don't see the Doctor until--
Um, this is embarrassing! I forgot to mention that right after tent number four we actually get treated to tent number five. And then we see the TARDIS (at 02:08), and then the Doctor snoozing (02:13) but the camera mocks us by coming to a rest with the corner of tent number six just in frame. So it takes well over a minute and a half just to pan across the beach, and I... I'm pretty sure that in 1980 this coyness must have been the height of comedy because otherwise why would you bother? Please someone tell me this was funny at one stage.
Which reminds me I watched Charlie Chaplin's The Rink (1917) a few months ago. Again, I'm pretty sure it was meant to be funny because I gather Chaplin was known for being quite a card, but I was sitting there watching it thinking, "Wow, how fascinating that some ancient human civilisation used to watch things like this for entertainment. I suppose that guy's caricaturised black eye makeup had some tremendous cultural significance at the time; I wonder what it was."
Anyway, back to Till the Clouds Roll By. It's a pretty straightforward plot, if "plot" is the right word. There's this songwriter, and he's having a hard time breaking onto the stage. He gets a mentor, he goes to England because English stuff's all they're buying, he falls in love, show business continues to be hard, he breaks onto the stage, he gets married, his mentor's daughter disappears, his mentor dies so he goes into a funk, someone finds his mentor's daughter for him so suddenly he's out of the funk, he writes stuff with Hammerstein (I've heard of Hammerstein!), his stuff gets produced at Hollywood sung by his mentor's daughter, the end. --By the way, the mentor and the daughter were invented for the biopic; this guy must have had a really boring life.
I actually started watching it a year or so ago and fell asleep half an hour in. But today I started watching it on my iPod when I was waiting in the takeaway shop with nothing else to do, and the songs were pretty good. I particularly liked Lena Horne's "Can't Help Loving That Man", and then later at a boring spot I looked up her bio and... in case I'm not the only person who did not know this let me quote:
I think it might be possible to trick me into watching a biopic about Lena Horne by saying, "Hey, Zeborah, this is a biopic about Lena Horne."
"[She] was never featured in a leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with black performers."
"Horne wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGM's 1951 version of Show Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show Boat was performed in Till the Clouds Roll By) but lost the part to Ava Gardner, a personal friend in real life, due to the Production Code's ban on interracial relationships in films."