Girl You Know It's Stranger Than Fiction

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It's finally happening.

Universal Pictures has acquired the rights to make a film about Milli Vanilli, the duo that rose to the top of the pop charts and fell just as quickly when they were exposed as frauds. Jeff Nathanson will write the script and direct the film… He has secured the cooperation of Fabrice Morvan, as well as the estate of Rob Pilatus, who died in 1998 as the pair were attempting a comeback.

This is evidence, if the post-1994 resurrection of Richard Nixon's reputation wasn't enough, that Americans can forgive anything. The backlash to Milli Vanili in 1989 was epic; class action lawsuits, Grammy takebacks, riots that outclassed the horrific Monkees Genocide of 1965. And now there will be a movie, and it will probably win Oscars.

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  1. The problem with making a movie about it is that they weren’t important enough for anyone to really remember. No one will care.

    It would be like making a movie about how Terence Trent D’Arby was arrogant. Yeah, maybe you could tell a great story about hubris, and dress it up like a Greek tragedy, but the average moviegoer would scratch their heads like someone who landed on the wrong color in Trivial Pursuit and say, “Who was Terence Trent D’Arby?”

    “Milli Va-who?”

  2. Uhh…. You seem to be making the assumption that just because a movie is ABOUT something, it SUPPORTS something. Not necessarily true.

    Anywho, a look at Mr. Nathanson’s filmography on IMDb doesn’t provide much hope. On the plus side: He wrote “Catch Me If You Can.” On the downside: “Rush Hour 2,” “Rush Hour 3” and “The Terminal.”

    But he will also be responsible for the script to the new Indiana Jones movie…. now THAT I will run out to see opening weekend.

  3. Milli Va-who? Oh right. Those non-singing patsies that exposed the entire music industry as a bunch of frauds.

    Didn’t care then, care even less now.

  4. Who needs a biopic when you have the E True Hollywood Story?

    By the way, this calls for a “filmic equivalent of milli vanilli” joke.

    I hear all of the acting will be performed by body doubles.

    Thank you.

  5. Milli Vanilli were not “frauds” at all – they were pioneers. They took the idea behind the “pop star” and raised it to it’s logical conclusion: as long as you’re a star, who cares if it’s actually your voice?

    I never understood the backlash once the duo was exposed – if you liked Milli Vanilli’s album, what difference should it make if the guys on the cover were not the ones providing the voices?

    So now of course no pop stars actually sing at their concerts and if they’re singing on their albums it’s usually through a computer program that makes their voice sound better than it really is. And people are fine with this, because what’s important is the Star?singing is just one of the many roles that the star plays these days.

  6. I think the greatest injustice here is that while Milli Vanilli get a movie instead of a part on the next season’s Celebrity Fit Club, a real musical genius like Vanilla Ice is stuck shilling for Turbo Tax just to make ends meet.

  7. Hmmm, Dan T may be on to something (shudder)…

  8. Actually, Warren was using “frauds” to describe the music industry, not MV.

  9. Dan T. is absolutely right. As long as the star is sexy, who cares if there’s any musical talent. I mean, it’s not like the person singing the song needs to be creative. They just gotta shake that ass, and let the industry do the rest.

  10. yeah but the vanilla ice story has already been immortalized in ‘cool as ice’ (“When a girl has a heart of stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add Ice.”)

    really, this movie should be the frank farian story. for one thing it would probably be more interesting, and for another they could then add boney m. to the mix.

  11. Frank Sinatra: “Shut up! Okay, issue number four: Milli Vanilli. What is this faggot crap? Uncle Fester!”

    Phil Hartman, you are missed.

  12. I’m a little surprised at the tone and the assumptions in this thread. Why does a movie made out of a fleeting cultural joke have to be bad?

    When Melvin Dummar first claimed Howard Hughes’ estate for giving him a lift, I doubt a lot of people “cared” about Melvin or thought he was ready for his Hollywood close-up. I certainly don’t care about the Carpenters (even in a post-post-ironic Sonic Youth way), but Todd Haynes made a pretty powerful Barbie-doll biopic with Superstar.

    Will Universal want something mass-market, thus reducing the chances for an interesting movie? Probably. Is Nathanson as talented as Demme or Haynes? Maybe, maybe not. But unlike the Cornerites, who were ready to pluck out their own eyes when they heard Oliver Stone was making a WTC movie, only to later recant and call it the movie of the decade, I would think reasonites would take a little more of a wait-and-see attitude.

  13. this will probably be made for tv and air on vh1. no way this gets national distribution in theaters.

  14. Holy crap, Dan T., whom I have basically been considering a maniac, not only wrote what I think, but wrote it in a way very similar, maybe better, than I would have. Scary.

    (Or is this some deep Milli Vannilli joke in which Dan T. got someone else to write that for him?)

  15. Clearly Dan T is lip-syncing for someone today. He is exactly right, although I think Madonna pioneered the art form before Milli Vannilli. At some point in the mid 1980s Madonna stopped being famous for producing music and started being famous for just being Madonna. Milli Vannilli just took things a little further down the road by becoming famous for pretending to produce music. Paris Hilton completed the process by becoming famous for absolutely nothing other than being herself, although she is not a pure “personality” since she is arguably famous for being an internet porn star.

  16. Dan T has a point. However, he seems to view the phenomenon he’s discussing as ok. I’m less comfortable with the adulation of plastic-fantastic, pre-packaged stars. Then again, I actually care about music.

  17. Clearly Dan T is lip-syncing for someone today. He is exactly right, although I think Madonna pioneered the art form before Milli Vannilli. At some point in the mid 1980s Madonna stopped being famous for producing music and started being famous for just being Madonna. Milli Vannilli just took things a little further down the road by becoming famous for pretending to produce music. Paris Hilton completed the process by becoming famous for absolutely nothing other than being herself, although she is not a pure “personality” since she is arguably famous for being an internet porn star.

    Agreed. Madonna deserves credit for being America’s first mainstream performance artist. She casted herself as a variety of characters (usually based on various sexual archetypes: the virgin, the dominatrix, the daddy’s girl, etc.) and was always performing, even when not on stage.

  18. The entire music industry is fraudulent, Warren? Even the Montreal Symphony Orchestra? Damn, that’s depressing. So who’s really playing First Violin?

  19. Milli Vanilli were not “frauds” at all – they were pioneers.

    Pioneers? ummm…am I the only one who remembers The Monkees?

  20. Dan T has a point. However, he seems to view the phenomenon he’s discussing as ok. I’m less comfortable with the adulation of plastic-fantastic, pre-packaged stars. Then again, I actually care about music.

    It seems okay to me because there’s no shortage of good music out there for those interested in it. Plus, I think the fans of pre-packaged stars are mostly young people who will move on to more serious music as they grow older. When I was a teenager, I thought heavy metal was the greatest form of music out there and it took me a while to figure out that the rock’n’roll wild lifestyle concept was mostly an act and that’s what attracted me more than the formulaic music.

  21. MP,

    The Monkees actually did sing their stuff. Granted most of it was written by Niel Diamond and backed by studio musicians, but they did actually sing and did tour and perform without the help of tapes. The Monkees were just a 1960s pop band who had a TV show.

  22. I agree that this is ridiculous. It would be like trying to make a film about that “comedian” who was so unfunny that the viewers of Saturday Night Live voted to ban him permanently from the show–what’s his name? Oh, yeah: Andy Kaufmann.

  23. The Monkees actually did sing their stuff. Granted most of it was written by Niel Diamond and backed by studio musicians, but they did actually sing and did tour and perform without the help of tapes. The Monkees were just a 1960s pop band who had a TV show.

    Not quite…they started as a TV show. Also, at first, they were only allowed to sing. And it wasn’t simply a backing band…others did (practically) all of the original music. It wasn’t until their third album that they (Michael Nesmith in particular) had taken control of things and were actually writing and playing their own music.

    So yes, although they were musicians, and they did eventually take control of their music, they were quite clearly the original music props.

  24. One of the Weather Girls sang the female vocal for C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat Now” while some sweet young thing lip synched it for the video. Nobody blinked an eye.

  25. Not quite…they started as a TV show. Also, at first, they were only allowed to sing. And it wasn’t simply a backing band…others did (practically) all of the original music. It wasn’t until their third album that they (Michael Nesmith in particular) had taken control of things and were actually writing and playing their own music.

    I kept waiting for The Archies to make a similar breakout.

  26. Win Oscars????

    I didn’t realize there was a category for best lip-synched soundtrack.

  27. “they were quite clearly the original music props.”

    I don’t see how they were any more props than the Supremes were when they were singing songs written by Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and backed by the Funk Brothers, or the Ronnettes singing in front of Phil Specter’s wall of sound. Like I said, they were a 60s pop band with a TV show.

  28. They should have gone to India. There they have singers who record tracks and dancers who appear in the music videos and even on stage.

    Also, I’m glad there are other geeks here to handle to Monkees thing so I don’t have to thoroughly embarass myself 🙂

  29. they were any more props than the Supremes were … the Ronnettes singing in front of Phil Specter’s wall of sound.

    Because The Monkees were holding instruments that they weren’t playing, yet by releasing an album, they were perceived by the general public as having played those instruments on that album.

    Now I’m going to go listen to The Monkees Anthology and wallow in my perception.

  30. Ronnie Spector is a goddess.

  31. “Because The Monkees were holding instruments that they weren’t playing”

    Yeah kind of like Elvis always holding that guitar when he barely knew two cords. Yes the monkeys were total packaged for the public, but so is nearly every pop star.

  32. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard that when the Beatles first arrived in America Brian Epstein brought in busloads of schoolgirls to scream at them during TV appearances.

    So ever our most revered artists have a little Milli Vanilli in them.

  33. What I want to know is who would greenlight such a movie 18 years after the fact? Not exactly “ripped from the headlines” at this point.

  34. The movie will just get stuck about forty seconds in anyway.

  35. A movie about Milli Vanilli?! So, that’s what’s at the very tippety tip of “The Long Tail”.

  36. Can any lawyer types explain to me the basis of the class action lawsuit against the record company?

    IIRC, it was some kind of fraud.

    But as someone else mentioned, the CDs and tapes still exist with the songs still on them and the songs still sound the same.

    How was the consumer hurt?

  37. i knew you Humans were insane way back in the ’60s when they booed Jimi Hendrix off the stage for opening a Monkees act.

    Live long and prosper and don’t buy junk music.

  38. Guess I’m awfully cynical, but I can’t help but thinking this is nothing more than a floated idea to hide either a tax scam or laundering of money.

    Z-grade television thingie, if that.

  39. Nowadays, virtually all pop music uses some sort of pitch-correction and vocal processing. If you ever get a chance to play with some of that equipment, it is pretty fun: You have pitch on a MIDI keyboard, and “sing” into the microphone, and it is your voice except you can sing well. The technology is pretty damn amazing.

    I really don’t know why any artists would lipsync anymore (like that Simpson chick on SNL), when you could simply have a keyboard player playing the pitch correction of your singing and actually sing.

  40. It would actually be interesting if the film was done from the point of view of Rob and Fab…two model/dancers who were asked to front for a music project…seems innocent enough…then somehow they find themselves international stars until it all comes crashing down.

    It’s got to be strange to go from hero to laughingstock…didn’t it drive one of them to suicide?

  41. de stijl,
    “Ronnie Spector is a goddess.”

    Be my little baby!

  42. I really don’t know why any artists would lipsync anymore (like that Simpson chick on SNL), when you could simply have a keyboard player playing the pitch correction of your singing and actually sing.

    It only works to a degree–you have to be at least in the neighborhood of the desired pitch for it to work properly. Otherwise the amount of pitch alteration becomes so great that it sounds really fake. If the singer is doing a lot of dancing during their act, they may not be able to get close enough pitch-wise or rhythm-wise to properly sync up with the MIDI pitch track or the keyboardist’s playing.

  43. “I really don’t know why any artists would lipsync anymore”

    ChrisO is correct. Sometimes Britney might be out of breath after a long dance number causing her to miss the note, or more likely, she’ll just completely miss the note while dry humping the backup singer.

    Think of it this way: Can you sing while engaging in simulated sex acts? Try doing 100 pelvic thrusts into the air in, say, 30 to 45 seconds or so. On pelvic thrust number 40, try and sing Happy Birthday. Let me know how it goes.

    I think we need to get people who can really sing, and have the dancers fake dance…..er somethin’

  44. However the Monkees also benefited from some talented folks backing them. The largest swath of Monkees music came from the duo of Boyce & Hart, two guys who tried out for the show but didn’t make it. They eventually had their own hit song with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” Boyce/Hart were responsible for 7 of the songs on the Monkees first album.

    The Monkees basic dilemma was having to make a TV show and songs at the same time. They also suffered from the problem of having a band consisting of three guitarists (Tork, Nesmith and Dolenz) and a singer.

    The most interesting thing about the Monkees was not the stage managed aspect of it, but that surprisingly both the TV show and the band were often very, very good. I guess they hadn’t yet wrung all the creativity out of the process.

    It’s also worth noting that the Monkees were singled out for a practice (using session players for studio recordings) that was fairly common and unnoticed at the time. They also were not the first attempt to create a pop group out of thin air, just the first successful one.

  45. Few points on these comments:

    1. C+C Music Factory put Ya Kid K front and center after the ruse with the model in the video was discovered. Milli Vanilli just disappeared. Damn, the guys who really sang must have looked the Beast and Quasimodo!

    2. The Monkees made themselves into a real band after they hit it big. That’s pretty cool.

    They also suffered from the problem of having a band consisting of three guitarists (Tork, Nesmith and Dolenz) and a singer.
    3. Did you just call Micky Dolenz a “guitarist”? He learned to play drums as a member of the Monkees. Did he ever play guitar? He and Davy Jones came from acting backgrounds, as opposed to the musicians, Tork and Nesmith.

  46. I read somewhere where he was a “functional” guitarist, though he was first and foremost a child actor. That would have been good enough had there a need for a guitarist but since that was double covered he needed to be assigned a new instrument.

  47. From here:

    Dolenz Bio

    “In his teens, Micky guest-starred on a number of television shows and also learned to play guitar.”

    And here:

    dolenz bio

    “He went to a trade college and met a few musicians. They formed a group called Micky and the One Nighters, later the called Missing Links. Micky left school and became the guitarist. He traveled around with them and played in a lot of clubs.”

  48. Well, whaddyaknow?
    All Music Guide lists only drums and vocals.

  49. Check this out:

    http://www.gramophone.co.uk/newsMainTemplate.asp?storyID=2759&newssectionID=1

    Masterpieces Or Fakes? The Joyce Hatto Scandal February 15 2007

    It was already one of the strangest stories the classical music world had witnessed. But the discovery of the late English pianist Joyce Hatto as the greatest instrumentalist almost nobody had heard of, appears to have taken a bizarre, even potentially sinister turn.

    […]

  50. Max,

    Do you think we’ll be talking about her movie in 2025?
    I doubt it.
    Too bad – her movie would probably be more interesting.

  51. You know, I don’t care too much about/for Milli-Vanilli myself, but they were pretty big.

    I mean I was a kid and listened to Top 40 Casey Casem and shit. They had at least 5-6 #1 songs off 1 album and I think the radio play lasted about 2 years. They were pretty Huge at the time. And I consider the scandal a pretty significant footnote in pop music/pop culture history. It was significant that they actually had Grammys stripped. Of course lipsynching wasn’t new, but this was a significant moment.

    The story was interesting enough to be told in print, TV specials, Behind The Musics ( several years aftr the fact and updated a couple times, like when Rob killed himself),etc.

    And shit, I am only 27. I can’t imagine that anything that actualy happened in my lifetime is too old for most normal people to remember. I know about a LOT of shit, even fads and minor scandals, that happened way before I was born, dont most people.

    One thing I really never understood was the backlash. Maybe I just “don’t get it” or dont care. But this was CLEARLY a Made-for-Video/Radio “act” ( not a band, not musicians, and now obviously not singers). Millions of people for whatever reason bought their tape/cd/cassettes and their singles. All these people for whatever reason really loved ‘Blame it on the Rain” or “Girl, I’m Gonna Miss You” or “Don’t Forget my Number” ( at the time “Girl You Know It’s True” didn’t seem like their biggest hit, just the first)the songs/singles. I doubt they were that into Rob and Fab as “the singers.” Yet because these great songs were sung by some old fat guy, a fat woman, and a little old guy- it was time to destroy the records, burn them, and erase them from memory. No one cared to check out the Real Milli Vanilli. I mean, if I like a RECORDED song, I realize it sounds that way because it was recorded with equipment, and well I like the way it sounds. I couldn’t care less if the band is named XYZ123 and all the members wear hoods and go by numbers. If I like the song, I like it. And if I like it enough to actually buy the album and create 5-6 top 40 hits,etc- well I’m still going t like the song after any scandal- even if I findout it was sung by a fat black transexual midget that wasn’t on the CD cover or credited in the liner notes. If I liked a Michael Jackson song and hae te record but find out it was really sung by Terrence Trent D’arby, I wouldn’t throw it away or give a shit.

  52. I think the album review from AllMusicGuide is pretty good, for example it says ”

    As soon as the news spread, America was shocked – shocked, I tell you, shocked! – that those pretty German boys weren’t actually soulfully singing in flawless English on those impeccably constructed dance tracks, and immediately shunned the duo, burning the records in some cases. Which is sort of like gazing longingly at a Playboy centerfold and then being so horrified when you learn the photo is airbrushed, you lose all interest in sex. The fact is, with dance-pop (especially Euro-dance!), just like Playboy, artificiality is the name of the game, and that’s what is good about it. It’s the distinguishing characteristic, its identity, the core of its being. On that level, it’s hard not to listen to Girl You Know It’s True and marvel at the level of Farian’s studiocraft, since it doesn’t even sound like he programmed a computer to make this music; it sounds like something the machine wrote on its own accord. “

  53. “And, years after the lip-synching hubbub, it’s hard to imagine why there was such a fuss about an album so transparent, lightweight, and intentionally disposable. Then again, listening to it now, you can’t believe that anyone thought Rob and Fab were really singing, since not only do the voices not match the picture on the cover, but they don’t match any picture at all. But when it comes down to it, this music is so manufactured, it doesn’t sound like anyone is really singing. And that’s what’s sort of cool about it.

  54. But will the soundtrack for the movie win a Grammy?

  55. Rob Pilatus’s estate? It probably consisted of a plastic comb, a jar of mustard, and a small stack of Archie comics.

  56. “Rob Pilatus’s estate? It probably consisted of a plastic comb, a jar of mustard, and a small stack of Archie comics.” Woah, he had mustard.

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