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Inside Stories -  Biography and Film


In co-operation with the Institute for Theatre, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna and the Vienna Film Museum, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography held a film symposium titled 'Inside Stories'  from 23-25 November 2007.


Part of the continuing appeal of biography, whether written or on screen, is that it can offer the illusion of a cohesive, unified life story. Enlightenment notions of the autonomous, sovereign subject and the division of human activity into interior and exterior, private and public spheres are a necessary part of biographical representations. Applied to the aesthetics of filmmaking, this has many implications.

Biographical films have been popular since the beginnings of cinema and exist in a wide variety of styles, ranging from musical comedies to documentaries. As a result, attempts to categorize them en bloc either aesthetically or commercially are necessarily problematic. Traditionally, most research on the subject has focused on Hollywood ‘biopics ’. This symposium widened existing debates in several directions. With particular, but not exclusive, reference to biographical films made over the last two decades, prevailing narrative structures and aesthetic models were analysed and contextualized. Participants also reflected on the social and cultural developments revealed by this strong biographical impulse in cinema.

It is a commonplace of biographical research that times of crisis result in increased interest in biographical approaches to interpreting culture and history. The symposium considered to what extent the focus on identity questions in recent decades is reflected in biographical films. Attempts to portray the creative inner world of artistic subjects, for example, almost inevitably dramatize the clash, whether fruitful or destructive, between the individual and society; works of art can be incorporated into the filmic narrative in a variety of ways. In biographical films which focus on creative individuals and cultural production, the problem of how best to negotiate the border between documentary and fiction is particularly acute, and has to be confronted even by those closest to the conventions and aims of the mainstream fictional feature film.

The symposium was accompanied by screenings of biographical films at the Vienna Film Museum on 23-26 November 2007. A German-language publication on the subject of  Biography and Film, based on the proceedings of the symposium, was published by Zsolnay (Vienna) in 2009.

Icons, Heroes, Outsiders:
Film and Biography

Icons, Heroes, Outsiders: Film and Biography. Ed. by Manfred Mittermayer, Patric Blaser, Andrea B. Braidt, Deborah Holmes. Vienna. Zsolnay: 2009