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'Across The Universe' Writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais Pen Sam Cooke Biopic

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 15, 2011 at 2:09AM

Music is, obviously, a subjective thing. We might like 1980s Chicago house music, you might like country-folk, and we might disagree, but because we're adults, and not commenting on a YouTube video, we can agree that neither of us are right or wrong. But there are some artists that we at The Playlist simply can't comprehend anyone not liking. One of them: Sam Cooke. Cooke was one of the true legends of soul music, blessed with one of the most indelible voices in the history of popular music, as used to astonishing effect on tracks like "Chain Gang," Another Saturday Night" and, most famously, "A Change Is Gonna Come."
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Music is, obviously, a subjective thing. We might like 1980s Chicago house music, you might like country-folk, and we might disagree, but because we're adults, and not commenting on a YouTube video, we can agree that neither of us are right or wrong. But there are some artists that we at The Playlist simply can't comprehend anyone not liking. One of them: Sam Cooke. Cooke was one of the true legends of soul music, blessed with one of the most indelible voices in the history of popular music, as used to astonishing effect on tracks like "Chain Gang," Another Saturday Night" and, most famously, "A Change Is Gonna Come."

But Cooke's life was marred by tragedy: at the peak of his career, in 1963, his eighteen-month-old son Vincent drowned in the family's pool, leading to the break up of his already struggling marriage. Then, in December of the following years, Cooke was shot and killed by the manager of the motel in which he was staying, in circumstances then judged to be "justifiable homicide." So, in a way, it's surprising that it's taken this long for Cooke's life to make its way on to the big screen, but finally it looks to be happening.

Billboard reports that ABKCO, the record company which owns most of Cooke's output, are independently producing a biopic of the legendary singer, based on the book "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke," by Peter Guralnick (who also was behind the authorized, Grammy-award-winning documentary "Sam Cooke: Legend.") What's more, the screenplay is already complete, with veteran British writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais having apparently delivered a script that's met the approval of ABKCO boss Jody Klein.

Clement and La Frenais have been working together for close to half a century, famously creating the British sitcom classics "The Likely Lads" and "Porridge" before moving into the film world. Their credits include the wildly diverse likes of "Excess Baggage," "Flushed Away" and "The Bank Job," but they're perhaps best known for a number of music-inflected films. On the plus side, they penned Alan Parker's "The Commitments" and the underrated 1998 comedy "Still Crazy." On the minus side (and what a minus side...) they also penned the dreadful vehicle for 1990s girl band All Saints, "Honest," and the chronically stupid, crashingly obvious script for Julie Taymor's Beatles musical "Across The Universe."

What we're trying to say is, this could go either way -- their imminent comedy "Killing Bono" might be a better indicator of the quality to expect here. Klein, who's serving as the film's producer, and self-financing, says that the script covers the sweep of Cooke's life, from 1931 to 1964, with what seems to be a particular focus on his time as a label owner and an artist "who can spot talent" and confirms that all life and music rights have been secured, with the search for a director now underway.

Our biggest concern here, aside from the inconsistent Clement and La Frenais, is that the film is coming from someone with such a rooted financial interest in Cooke, and this could mean that the film will turn out to be something of a hagiography, which wouldn't exactly gel with the singer's troubled later years. Still, we're prepared to keep an open mind for the moment, at least until we hear more about the choice of directing and casting -- although admirably, Klein is in no haste to get the film made saying, "One of the benefits of being a private company is that it enables us the appropriate amount of time to develop the script and make this happen. It will not get lost."


Sam Cooke - "A Change Is Gonna Come"


Sam Cooke - "Chain Gang"

This article is related to: Musicians, Sam Cooke, Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais


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