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Old April 7th, 2005, 12:59 AM   #1
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Finding Neverland

I just finished Finding Neverland and I just have to say, I've never seen such a touching film since Forrest Gump. I balled like a baby. The script was perfect, the performances amazing, and the cinematography left me drooling. If you haven't seen this film yet, do.

The theme just captured me in a way I haven't been captured in a long time. I guess it's the fact that im becoming an adult and I've still got a lot of kid in me. I hope I never grow up. This film is incredible. 'nuff said.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 09:49 AM   #2
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I enjoyed it too, and the little kid Peter was phenomenal.

One big complaint though - it really bothers me when filmmakers take a true story and mold it for the sake of making it more touching. They took a lot of artistic license - homogenizing or amalgamating characters, adjusting timelines, etc. Yes, it makes for a more touching movie, but I feel it's a little irresponsible given that there are real people involved, and a real history behind the film.

Here's an article I found right quick that deals with the topic of history in this film.

http://www.stfrancis.edu/historyinth...gneverland.htm

One excerpt:

"...But the film compresses about thirteen years into one, thereby significantly revising history. One Davies boy-the fifth, Nico-was dropped from the story altogether. But the biggest departure from reality is the absence of the boys' father. Arthur Davies was very much alive when Barrie befriended his wife and children, and though he died before his boys were grown, his death didn't occur until ten years after his family met Barrie."


Again, I do think that perhaps it makes for better filmmaking to twist the real story, but I feel it betrays the actual people involved in the story. Since it's based on fact, it should present fact, and work hard to make it a moving film within the confines of historical accuracy. Anything else is just sort of a sweet lie.


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Old April 7th, 2005, 12:18 PM   #3
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Maybe the producers couldn't fit the entire history into a 2 hour format? Or they felt, like neverland itself, they could make a few things up?
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Old April 7th, 2005, 01:26 PM   #4
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They definitely could - longer histories than this have been covered in less time.

My point is just that we should have restraint in manipulating true histories. It's one thing to visually show the fantastical things in a person's head - but it's quite another to change 13 years into 1, completely remove or add people, or just plain misrepresent events that don't accurately show what lessons were learned or how.

I'm a history buff of sorts, and I wholeheartedly believe the old adage that those who don't know their own history are doomed to repeat it. If we have distorted histories, no matter with what purpose or intent, or how large or small, we can't possibly learn how to deal with our future.

Finding Neverland was a lovely tale that appeals to the emotions and to the senses. But that's all. And that's unfortunate because as a historical tale, it could have been much more without sacrificing the former.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 01:37 PM   #5
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I'm a history buff too but I don't see anything really consequential about changing the details about an author's life except for his fans or for family. It doesn't affect that many people.

Telling people that the aboriginals welcomed the European conquerors or that the Jews weren't targetted for genocide is consequential for a good many people.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 02:18 PM   #6
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Keith, where do you draw the line? How many people must the truth affect for its importance to become consequential? Would the last remaining aborigine not benefit from knowing the facts of his people's fate?

This problem is a profound example of the reasons artists slave away at their work and their cultures support them (hopefully). Politics--business--the daily throes of life--are often inadequate to such a question. But we're affected by the consequences daily; hence the immemorial popularity of the arts.

I regret changes I made to facts in feature scripts I've written. I did it because I was for hire and I felt obliged to the producers (who echoed your argument). I regret it because I believe in the objective truth; I have faith that events happened which can be valuably related. And it's a tasty challenge to hew to the known facts.

I'm thinking of a picture I wrote which didn't get made. I did a lot of research in Paris and the USA. Ultimately, we shied away from the truth merely because it wasn't beautiful (there's Keats again!); it wouldn't "satisfy" an audience. I think that's true: modern movie audiences probably generally want beautiful (read: exciting or conventionally satisfying) stories more often than they want true stories. It's just that sometimes, as a storyteller, I want to direct the audience to a truth they may not know about, rather than give them another escape. There's a kind of valor in the act of reporting gracefully.

A related problem is the difference between the truth and history: the former's what happened (which we may never know, or know completely); the latter's what we're told (in the cliche, by the victors). To the extent we can ferret out the truth, esp. about less-than-famous events, we--including the audience--can delight in the journey. Rigor of craft is often its own reward.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 02:22 PM   #7
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I don't agree that distortions need to be drastic for them to have detrimental affects on society. Drastic situations simply make it easier for everyone to agree because they are obvious, non-nuanced situations. But small compromises need not have evil intent for them to conspire with other small compromises to cause a greater problem in society. A problem that plagues our own societies to a very high degree today - the lack of knowledge of our own history. We keep seeing Hollywood-ized versions of every aspect of our history - how can we possibly learn anything when everyone is opening DVD cases instead of history books, and these DVD cases are full of emotional distortions of real events?

All that means is that films that are using history to sell themselves should take the path of higher responsibility and properly represent those histories.

Otherwise, create a fictional story and call it fiction!

If you've lost a parent, if you're a writer, if you're a hard-hearted controller... these are just three of the types of people who could learn something truthful from a truthful tale behind Finding Neverland. If it's not true though, then it's just a fictional exploration of emotional ideals, this is fine for a popcorn tearjerker, but it's betraying the single beautiful thing that history has to offer - specific answers to questions like how was it done, and can I apply it myself.

You can't get meat and potatoes out of films like this - only seasonings.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 02:26 PM   #8
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FWIW, I thought "Neverland" was nicely mounted, but it seemed rote to me. Depp, whom I often enjoy, sleepwalked through much of the picture. All in all, a bit too sweet. Maybe I wasn't in the mood.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 04:11 PM   #9
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Regardless of whether the writer's adaptation is based upon the actual event or is a fictionalization of the issue, the writer's responsibility is to be true to the issues surrounding the event. The writer interprets the conflict.

But then, that is exactly what any journalist does as well and they are under even more legal constraints than the writer. The journalist is bound to the facts and even they have a particular bent, prejudice and ultimately a decision coming down on one side or another in the way they portray the events.

The writer's version is always constrained in terms of time, number of characters, in scope as well as the dramatic pressures you touch upon. Let's face it. Many true stories are not laid out in three act structure (or five acts for TV). Many true stories don't have a single hero, a man and a woman working together are not always fated to fall in love, there is not often a 100% blameless side, the side that is right does not often win out. It is up to the writer to sharpen conflict so that it is clear to the viewers. That is why many stories are 'based upon true events', not an exact history.

Your example about only the last remaining aboriginal caring about the issue is off the mark. A good deal of people beyond the aboriginals care about the issue since the history of the Americas will always be affected by that history.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 04:52 PM   #10
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Sharpening conflict or adjusting something into a digestible three act structure sounds harmless enough. But it's the end result that can be awfully harmful.

Kingdom of Heaven is coming out soon - another film that's not only capitalizing on history, but also on current tensions on the subject. Even the tiniest bit of manipulation of this history can drastically alter perception in a time where every single bit of fact matters.

Applying perspective or a slant to presented facts is only fair if the facts presented are just that - facts. Not twisted, adjusted, manipulated or reordered.

Whether or not a person labels it as 'based on a true story' or 'a true story' - it will still usurp public opinion on the historic event.

I submit that film is a much more powerful medium than anything journalists have not only because it's visual and auditory in a way a news article can never be, but also because for some reason we don't apply the same standards of truth to it - a narrative filmmaker can run amok with facts and we all just smile and take it. Oh it's just a movie.

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Old April 7th, 2005, 05:16 PM   #11
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Imran, it is just a movie. It is not a history, not a substitute for an education, a good book, or a lecture.

The filmmaker's responsibility is to tell a story.

Quote:
Kingdom of Heaven is coming out soon - another film that's not only capitalizing on history, but also on current tensions on the subject. Even the tiniest bit of manipulation of this history can drastically alter perception in a time where every single bit of fact matters.
Yes. But I submit to you that you can take an entirely accurate account from any point in history and that story, even though entirely backed up by facts, can be extremely harmful if it is presented out of context. So facts are not everything. It is fairness of the issue that the filmmaker must be responsible to. This is the same responsibility of the journalist. The journalist can write an article that is totally accurate and will not land them in libel court but if they don't present a larger context then they can be unjust.

A filmmaker can create new characters, play with time, change settings and still be fair to the issue.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 05:42 PM   #12
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On that first item, its isn't "just a movie". It never is. Not when it comes to historical portrayals.

The people who NEED historical facts are exactly the kind of people that would watch the movie and forego the history book, and that's the horrible irony.

Everybody's supposed to know that a history book provides better history than a movie. But that's not what ends up happening. The film ends up owning the history it covers, and it ends up affecting public opinions on the subject. It's like propaganda that way, but it's much more subtle, and therefore effective.

I can't tell you how many otherwise intelligent people I've had debates with that mistakenly brought up facts covered in movies or in urban folklore instead of from any reputable source. It slips into the public subconscious, depending on how successful the film is.

I just support the idea that when covering history, filmmakers need to take the path of higher responsibility. Not the "oh it's just a movie" type of responsibility.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 05:59 PM   #13
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I think we can both agree that there needs to be better education and that people need to use their library cards.

Quote:
I just support the idea that when covering history, filmmakers need to take the path of higher responsibility. Not the "oh it's just a movie" type of responsibility.
I support that too. But I also believe that a filmmaker doesn't need to be paralyzed when they can be fair to the issue while focusing on their own themes.

I just finished watching Kurosawa's "Kagemusha". In the commentary it is noted that his take on Takeda Shingen is not entirely accurate. In the movie Shingen's fondest wish is to conquer Kyoto. But in history Shingen's campaigns were in the opposite direction. This didn't fit Kurosawa's theme of a man's ambition being thwarted by outside forces.

Japanese scholars may have been peeved but Kurosawa made a very good movie. A student in a university-level course isn't going to want to use "Kagemusha" for their source material. At the same time the movie gives a very good idea of the time period for the lay person.

You and I would have a big problem if Kurosawa had armed the warriors in his movie with repeating rifles instead of matchlocks. To me it is not a big deal if Shingen's desires were misrepresented. It may have been ahistorical but that kind of misrepresentation is not serious.

I was asked earlier : "where do I draw the line?" Well I ask you where do you draw the line? If the real person did nothing but picked their nose for two weeks does the filmmaker have to represent that? Obviously the filmmaker has to make a decision what to show and what not to show. By omission they have not shown the true history. A historical figure has six sons but only two of them are said to have done anything significant. Why do they deserve screen space?
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Old April 7th, 2005, 07:35 PM   #14
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I don't think anyone's arguing that the history needs to be represented in real time.

It's the altering of facts, like the thing Kurosawa did for the sake of his personal giggles, is irresponsible for all the reasons I've mentioned. That's all.
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Old April 7th, 2005, 08:02 PM   #15
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I don't think it's necessarily irresponsible, Imran. Keith's right that an artist has to satisfy his inherent obligations first. Where you and I agree is on the potential for harm to the audience.

I don't think people are so fragile that they need to be coddled; it's okay for artistic license to be exercised. Hell, I'd even argue it's necessary for the health of storytelling, which informs the culture.

I like history because it contains events stranger than most fiction, and there's a lot to be said for grounding your fake worlds in as much reality as possible. Just as audiences can be turned off by too-hermetic invention, they often like the taste of verisimilitude.

Ultimately, "kitchen sink" is as much a matter of taste as of responsibility---something which, as Yeats said, has its roots in dreams.
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