Milli Vanilli: the movie - a sorry tale of music, manipulation and miming
Friday 16 February 2007
In the music industry, Milli Vanilli is a byword for embarrassment and scandal. The pretty-boy duo, who soared to the top of the charts in the late Eighties and early Nineties with songs such as "Girl I'm Going To Miss You" and "Blame It On The Rain", were exposed as frauds after it emerged that they did not sing their own songs.
The American music academy rescinded a Grammy they had won for best new artist and the episode was an uncharacteristic blot on the otherwise extraordinary career of Clive Davis, the music executive extraordinaire who ran Milli Vanilli's label, Arista.
And now their story is set to become a film. Jeff Nathanson, a screenwriter who previously looked at the career of a conman in the Steven Spielberg-directed caper Catch Me If You Can, has sold the rights to a movie based on Milli Vanilli to Universal Pictures, according to yesterday's edition of the entertainment industry paper of record, Variety.
"I've always been fascinated by the notion of fakes and frauds, and in this case, you had guys who pulled off the ultimate con, selling 30 million singles and 11 million albums and then becoming the biggest laughing-stocks of pop entertainment," Nathanson told Variety.
In a world where images and digital manipulation have a disturbing habit of trumping reality, Nathanson may be on to something. Milli Vanilli, like so much of life in the 21st century, were all about the packaging - two long-haired, buff-chested guys who looked great on stage and on album covers and effectively acted as a front for a musical operation organised almost entirely without them. Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus, the two hunks in question, were the creation of a record producer called Frank Farian, who first hired them in Europe and then brought them to the United States as their careers started taking off.
Legally speaking, the biggest mistake Clive Davis and Arista made was to attribute the voices on the group's first album, All or Nothing, to Morvan and Pilatus. The international edition of the record did no such thing.
Serious questions began to be asked after a concert in Connecticut in 1989 when the recording of the song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed, causing the line "Girl you know it's..." to repeat over and over - without, revealingly, the word "true". It became immediately clear that the duo was lip-synching on stage - something other packaged bands did too - and critics immediately wondered whether they ever sang at all.
Farian eventually came clean in November 1990 - causing the music academy to rescind Milli Vanilli's Grammy and prompting a torrent of class-action lawsuits from concert-goers and record buyers.
The lives of Morvan and Pilatus did not go smoothly after they were exposed. Pilatus became addicted to drugs and carried out a series of robberies, earning himself a three-month prison sentence at one stage. He died of a drug overdose in 1998, just as the pair were getting ready to release a comeback album featuring their real voices for once.
Morvan, meanwhile, has persisted on and off with his musical career. Despite taking numerous voice lessons, however, he has never proved to be a winner, commercially or critically. He has had to work as a Los Angeles radio disc jockey and as a participant in a Fox television reality show called Celebrity Boot Camp.
Nathanson said he intended to narrate his film from the duo's point of view. Many have argued that the men were pawns of an unscrupulous music industry that has never been shy about presenting illusion as reality if it can sell records.
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