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Awake In The Dark
What you're watching these days on the Big Screen and the Small Screen.


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Old April 8th, 2005, 11:19 AM   #16
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Imran, whenever a movie distorts facts there is a constituency of people who know about it and raise a fuss. If it is serious enough and if enough people care, then these people will get more media attention than if the movie had never happened.

Case in point: "U571". The movie depicted Americans recovering the Nazi codes when it was the British. A huge fuss was raised by British veterans, scholars and the public about this. Everyone got their airtime. How many people actually knew that there was this little known operation to recover the Nazi codes to begin with? I did because I read history. Now anyone who has heard about the movie knows that this bit of history existed and that there was a controversy surrounding the difference between the fictional version and the real version of events.

How many historians got a little more attention because "Alexander" came out? How many gay activists were able to get their quotes out because the movie only hinted at his sexuality?
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Old April 8th, 2005, 01:36 PM   #17
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Keith I see your point. But the makers of these movies are counting on people thinking they have some accuracy, but when called upon it, they raise there hands and say, not my fault.

I've always thought the best way to do accurate historical drama was with a mini-series. But thats me. Of course even they can be totally biased (take 'God and Generals' for example).
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Old April 8th, 2005, 02:07 PM   #18
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Joe, the filmmakers see an event in history and see the possibility for a good story and then they work on it. There are those who really like authenticity and those that don't. Compare "U571" to "Das Boot". Both have a veneer of authenticity and one is more rooted in it than the other. Both address their markets well. When "U571" was taken to task for its distortions everyone benefitted. The filmmakers got even more press because of the fuss raised by the British and the British and others who were concerned had their day in the press as well.

Your raising of "Gods and Generals" is interesting. I am on a computer game board for a Civil War game where there has been an interesting back and forth over what was considered the best Civil War film.

Almost universally "Gods and Generals" is lambasted not because of its accuracy but because it really is a mediocre film (at least in its theatrical release). Many who saw it don't believe that the real life historical figures spoke so pompously or at such length about religion and honor, etc. It turns out that many of them probably were like that and people of that time really did speechify as much as they did in the film. But on the screen, to modern viewers, it could appear boring and fake. The filmmaker could have benefited by truncating the dialogue or by following more 'down-to-earth' characters. I thought the battle scenes were linear and simplistic; but some reenactors on the board corrected me and said that the battles as depicted probably were like that. Everyone agrees that the lack of blood in the battle scenes diminished that film's authenticity (The same criticism was directed at the first film: "Gettysburgh".)

More well-liked is "Glory", another ACW film that is rooted in a real life story. It is a superb film. Almost no one asks if the character created for Denzel Washington was a real person (who won an Oscar for his performance) or whether Morgan Freeman played a real life grave digger turned master sargeant (nominated for an Oscar). This is because their characters are signficant to the theme of the negros taking an active hand in fighting for their place in the conflict that is about the fate of negros in the United States at the time. I've read more criticism of the role of Col. Robert Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick, a real historical figure from whose writings the story of "Glory" is taken. Another filmmaker might have deleted Shaw's character altogether or minimized his role. Another historical aspect not covered except in a written coda at the end is that the heroic attack of the all-black regiment on the Confederate fort at the climax of the film was accompanied by efforts by white regiments. But the filmmakers made the decision to concentrate on the black regiment because that was the focus of the story. Hardly any time is spent on the Confederate view. That is not the focus of the story.

Filmmakers make the decision in writing, filming and editing the movie to focus on what they consider is meaningful and signficant. Historians do the same thing but have hundreds of pages to devote to covering all the bases.
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Old April 8th, 2005, 02:13 PM   #19
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History is history, and movies are storytelling. And storytellers, for millennia, have condensed stories down to what they feel are the most compelling and interesting elements to their audiences. They do this not to hide the truth or distort it, but to highlight what they see as the core truths they want to convey. That is why we like them. That is why we listen.

Let’s say I get in a four hour verbal fight with a friend of mine and we go back and forth misunderstanding each other, restating ourselves, edging towards each other’s views until we finally hit a hard-fought mutual understanding. Along the way, I stop for a bathroom break, my friend takes a phone call, we break it up by telling an story from our childhood, and I keep complaining that it’s a little too cold. When I make the movie version, do I have to include all that? Does it need to be four hours? What if I condense it all down to a 15 minute conversation where we start at the same place we started, and end at the same place we ended, but cut down to conversation to sound more like what we should have said rather than what we did. In that condensed version - one that really hits and condenses the terms of our disagreement and the progression to our mutual understanding - have I hid the truth? Have I misrepresented the truth? Or have I highlighted the truth? Can someone say that I have done a disservice to the truth because I left out my bathroom break? They can… but if I tell the story how it happened – exactly how it happened – no one will want to listen. I have to distill it somehow to highlight the truths that I (as storyteller) want to highlight, and that I think my audience will connect with.

The trouble is that different truths are important to different people. I have gone to period movies with a costumer friend of mine and had her say (I am not making this up) “Oh, that’s crazy. This is supposed to be 1780, and no one wore a collar like that after 1740.” Can we not make a historical movie unless all the collars are correct? Can we not make a movie about the Polish unless they are all speaking Polish? Can we not make a movie about people who were all under 5’5” and use actors who are 6’? The storyteller has to make choices about which details to hold and which to let go.

No one can tell a story (or even a history lesson) with all of the facts. Everyone has to let some go.

What did I learn from Finding Neverland that was interesting? J.M. Barrie found the inspiration for some of his fiction from playing with the children of a neighbor. Do I care how many children it was? No. Do I care what kind of collars his jacket had? No. Do I care if it happened over 13 year or 1? No. Did I get a more clear view of the piece that I found interesting by not having to consider the smaller role her husband played in all of this? Yes. Thank you filmmaker, you gave me what I wanted.

The good news is that anyone who felt this story was incomplete is welcome to tell the story again. And this time they get to decide which facts to leave out.
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Old April 8th, 2005, 02:35 PM   #20
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"The trouble is that different truths are important to different people."

That speaks to the heart of it, I think. Everybody decides for themselves what they think is the kernel of the story, twists it to play out to that kernel, and cashes in on it, everything else be damned.

Call me an idealist, I just don't think people should be able to exploit history like that. Again, for all the reasons of irresponsibility I mentioned. And for what someone said earlier - everyone is quick to use the history to sell their story, but even quicker to shirk the responsibility when there are repercussions for their ill-told story.
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Old April 8th, 2005, 03:00 PM   #21
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You are being an idealist.

The most careful historian also omits or gives weighting to one facet of a collection of facts over others.

Every journalist is faced with the same opportunity.

A documentarist has the restriction of time and space in ordering the same facts.

Storytellers who adapt history for a fictional feature film have a different order of possibilities.

None of the above own history. None of the above have the sole responsibility for presenting all of the facts. The historian who is concentrating on the life of a single President cannot be criticized for ignoring the life of his wife or chauffeur. Someone else can decide to do that history just like other filmmakers are free to make their own takes on it.

Stanley Kubrick spent 15 years cobbling together data for a Napoleon film that he never was able to make. When he died he may have been one of only a handful of lay people who were experts on the life of Napoleon. Even so, if he had been able to make the movie, he still would have had the same possibilities as a director who knows nothing about Napoleon except what he sees in that famous painting of Napoleon by Jacques Louis David. Kubrick might have filmed a scene showing every single member of Napoleon's staff and Austerlitz, but he probably also wouldn't have cared if it was minus two or three officers or if the time they met was off by an hour. It is not a decision of significance.

Your criticism is a recipe for creative paralysis.
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Old April 8th, 2005, 03:27 PM   #22
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Absolutely not! It's the opposite - an incitement to stop creative laziness. There's plenty of fodder in history for remarkable stories, as they actually happened. There are plenty of writers who can represent history without reordering events or creating fake characters for their inability to creatively represent a factual event.

And no I don't expect things to play out in real time, I'm not referring to when the person went to the loo, and I'm not talking about something like who drove so and so and at what speed. That's not what I'm talking about at all.

Reordering events, and creating fake characters is unforgivable in a historical tale. It's one thing to take artful license, like Barrie's imagination coming to life visually, but it's another to just twist a core part of the story like that the father of those kids was alive the whole time. That's a basic lie that causes half of the picture to change. That's significant.
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Old April 8th, 2005, 03:46 PM   #23
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Imran, my choice of 'God and Generals' was because I grew up in the South, where the war was frequently referred to as 'The war of Northern Agression'. There was/is an overly idealized view of the Souths' motives and honor.
The whole 'State Rights' thing was propaganda to sell to the poor, almost all who didn't own slaves, but did most of the dying.

What was especially infuriating was how the bible was used to justify slavery (decendents of Ham), though in the old testament, the judgement against Ham was carried out when the Isrealites retook Palestine.

While it's been established the typical educated person back then could be very verbose, it was also common for that speechifying to have mostly to do with obeying your leaders without question or you were commiting a great sin...(at least in the South)

The mini series itself hinted several times that Stonewall Jackson was secretly anti slavery, and Robert E. Lee is never ever permitted to be just another wealthy slave/plantation owner looking out for his own interests. I think Ted Turner (who had a cameo in the film) is in love with Southern Mythology.

Those are common devices film makers use to make Southern leaders more appealing. It all Started with 'Birth of a Nation'.
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