Marc Bolan – 21st Century Boy

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 9 Mar 2010
  • min read
Marc Bolan’s biographer, Mark Paytress tells M magazine of his journey to bring Bolan to the silver screen

It was 1992 and I’d just finished my book, 20th Century Boy: The Marc Bolan Story, and a comment made by my editor about the manuscript put the seed of an idea for a feature film based on Bolan’s life in my mind.

The years passed, as did a long line of prospective scriptwriters, directors and producers who approached me with a view to ‘optioning’ the rights to my book. United Talent Agency, the representatives of Johnny Depp – a favourite for the title role - even got in touch, but nothing came of it.

By this time, I’d completely overhauled the book, rewriting it as Bolan: The Rise And Fall Of A 20th Century Superstar. Most pop biopics follow an arc that begins with a dream and ends in tragedy. Bolan lived his life as if it was already cinema, a heart-tugging melodrama of a boy born in Hackney whose every move was pure Hollywood.

Rock biopics aren’t made for music nerds, they’re made for an audience that wants to see a gripping human interest story with music attached. And to do that successfully, it isn’t always necessary to chronicle an artist’s life from cradle to grave.

Cut to present day and my film ambitions for the Bolan biopic aren’t just mine any more. I’ve been joined on the journey by Sam, a leading scriptwriter for stage, screen, TV and radio. The heart of the script has moved away from music and subcultures, towards angles that illuminated Bolan’s needs and motivations.

The key to any film about Bolan is Bolan’s music itself. We met Simon Platz, one of the key publishers of Bolan’s music, and secured a tacit agreement that the songs we wanted would be available at a price dependent on the film’s total budget.

Though Depp’s name no longer seems to get a mention, the current received wisdom is that having an unknown play Bolan would work best for believability. In this game, those who put the money up call the shots. Even our meticulously reworked script is likely to be unrecognisable by the time it (hopefully) hits the screen.

Will Bolan, too, get the cinematic treatment his flash, and of course, beautifully fragile life deserves? Watch this space…

To read Nicky Graham's account of his efforts to create a Bolan musical visit: