Pondering a Film Adaptation of Morrissey’s Autobiography
Cinema loves a good adaptation, they always have and always will, in fact often it seems that without the age old delights of the written word there would be no films, such is the reliance on books for plots. The latest big name to release a film ready autobiography from the world of the rich, famous and wonderful is polarising Mancunian wordsmith Morrissey.
Flailing on to the musical landscape with The Smiths in 1983 the lanky, gladioli waving, gravity defying quiff wearer became a cult sensation through his poignant lyrical brilliance and outspoken nature off the stage. Churning out classic after classic The Smiths imploded only five years after their explosive start, a premature end to a band eternally adored, even mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles.
A successful single career followed for the man nicknamed Mozza, his rapid apostles lapping up his every line, supporting him to the bitter end; some frenzied fans even brave, or desperate, enough to storm the stages of the world to touch the hand of their musical saviour. Always mysterious, outspoken and entertaining Morrissey’s Penguin Classic released memoirs are the perfect look into his intriguing existence, from childhood up to his latest clashes with the press and world in general thus providing the impeccable basis for a big screen depiction of the charming man.
Morrissey’s autobiography is a literary delight, far removed from the predictably tedious rock star tales of sex and drugs and sausage rolls (or was it rock and roll?). At times the book feels like the work of Dickens, the lugubrious depiction of 1960s Manchester twined with the squalor of Oliver Twists’ London. Despite being suitably gloomy, it is Morrissey after all, the wit and humour props up the narrative from melting in its own self-pity during its 400 plus pages. Engaging and insightful in regards to the juvenescence of his life as well as impressively opinionated on almost everyone (Sarah Ferguson: “A little bundle of orange crawling out of a frothy dress, the drone of Sloane”) and everywhere (“Denmark is sadly a hellish place if you happen to be a pig, but the brioche and fruits that tower on the table before me have me hastily attaching a feedbag”) the work of non-fiction is masterful, frustrating, hilarious, tedious, insightful all at once, in other words, built for cinema.
With a film version almost inevitable the question remains as to how a film of Morrissey’s life would pan out?
Taking inspiration from fellow Manchester musical hero Ian Curtis, Morrissey’s dreary and dank life could be seen through blunt colourless lenses used in Control. Anton Corbijn’s haunting biopic is a superb account of the doomed Joy Division frontman’s short life, based on his wife’s book, bringing a bleak, harrowing look at the facts. The focus is solely on Curtis, the band’s narrative second to their talisman’s troubles of debilitating epilepsy and an extra marital affair, all while pouring is heart out during renditions of Transmission and She’s Lost Control.
Morrissey likes to think he’s a deeply tragic figure, his sombre lyrics of a failed love life attest to this, but he didn’t have the martyr’s finale like Curtis, in fact quite the opposite as he now resides in Hollywood, therefore making an emotionally charged tale out of his life a much tougher ask. Focusing on his troubled teenage years at hellish schools with demonic teachers who ‘smelt of attics’ up and to his natural calling with The Smiths could be an intriguing tale, the lavish detail and fastidious nature of his younger years makes it prime for cinema. Additionally the serious tone of Control coupled with its impressive gig reconstructions would fit lovingly with Morrissey’s gravely serious tones regarding his lost teenage years: “I will sing … If not, I will have to die”.
Morrissey’s cinematic tastes are widely known, growing up he became incapacitated by the splendour of television and film, Coronation Street a firm favourite along with Northern kitchen sink dramas such as The L Shaped Room and A Taste of Honey, written by his Salfordian hero Shelagh Delaney. The man himself would revel in his own story being brought to life through working class melodrama, the dramatized nature of his autobiography would mean little need for embezzlement or added drama, it would seem that Morrissey has written his story with tales of social realism firmly in mind, whether that be down to the truth or poetic wishful thinking is another question.
Moving far away from a film of unflinching gritty realism would be a tongue in cheek approach, taking inspiration from Michael Winterbottom’s ridiculous tale of Manchester based Factory Records- 24 Hour Party People. As erratic as the Happy Mondays, Winterbottom’s film is a whirlwind adventure shown through Tony Wilson’s larger than life persona, his conversations with the viewer an example of the film’s playful direction.
It’s unlikely Morrissey would favour a trivialising of his life considering he once declared “popular music should be made to make serious statements”, but it would be a fitting way to get his wit across on screen, side sighs and remarks to the audience of “now I know how Joan of Arc felt” every time something went wrong bring his dry humour to the fore. On the other hand this could go horribly wrong, leaving Morrissey a naff caricature of himself that resembled Carry on Mozza rather than Oscar Wilde.
The possibilities are endless, wholly ludicrous visions of Morrissey the Musical are gravely tempting, lest he has the back catalogue for such a Broadway inspired production, or maybe in typical Moz-against-the-world style the film could be a rags to riches story of gravity that only the former Smiths’ man could muster from his humble Stretford beginnings. Almost biblical in its fabled vision Morrissey could be part tragic hero of Darren Aronofsky ilk coupled with part noble visionary who escapes the humdrum town rain- the result would be a self-indulgent masterpiece befitting his own inflated ego that played into his propagandistic retelling of events, notably his high profile court case with former Smith Mike Joyce.
Maybe the simplest idea would be to write him into an episode of Coronation Street, he never did realise his teenage script for a new jukebox to be cast into the back of the Rover’s Return.
The overarching question in regards to a Morrissey motion picture is who would play the inimitable man? It could be debated until the answer to How Soon Is Now? finally comes about. An established A-List name of either Michael Fassbender or Daniel Day Lewis would look befitting of the later life Morrissey but a youthful reincarnation would be more trying, a sought out new talent from the depths of the unknown the most appealing option. Maybe he could just play himself, or not looking at his ever so brief cameo in Brookside South.
Regardless of who plays the Heaven Knows I’m Miserable (Les Miserables-potential title?) singer or how a film would turn out, Morrissey’s infamous life is an unquestionably exciting prospect for cinema, a ready-made story for a ready-made following.
Classic Morrissey– The Southsea Bookworm
Autobigrpahy by Morrissey Review– The Dublin Reader
The Smiths– Self-analysis and unabashed advocacy