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Should Hollywood Bend The Truth?


loz

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This posts stems from a discussion I had with a colleague at work today. In essence we had an 'adult discussion' (yes we argued) about the extent to which Hollywood (really the film industry in general but Hollywood is the most guilty) should be allowed to take 'poetic license' to the nth degree when it comes to films that are portrayed as historic events.

Excessive over romanticism of history can be seen in the likes of Braveheart however I admit I got less annoyed about that probably because it depicted an era that is so far behind us now that anyone with a genuine interest in it would know that the film took history and treated it scant regard.

What riles me more is when films take a far more recent historic event and twist it so excessively so that they perpetuate a myth to the extent that generations of people believe the worst of a collection of people who are still alive today.

In the argument I had my colleague (for arguments sake we can call him Colin, mainly because that is his name) asked me for an example. The most obvious one I could think of is a number of war films focusing on conflicts such as Vietnam and Cambodia.

Undeniably the Vietnam film held in the very highest regard is 'The Deerhunter'. I openly admit it is a film that I also hold in high regard from the perspective of being a stunningly well made spectacle however you can't ignore the fact that, like most Vietnam films, it portrays the Vietnamese soldiers as nothing short of bloody thirsty animals. Who can think of that film without remembering the Russian roulette scene, total brutality and 10 minutes of film that was enough to make countless people without knowledge of the Vietnam war despise the Vietcong however an entirely piece of fiction as it was a part of the Vietnam war entirely made up by director Michael Cimino who was never actually in Vietnam.

'Apocalypse Now' - another 'classic film', another one that is held up high as a masterpiece of war films but another that creates a fictitious account of history designed to portray the Vietcong as butchers and the American's reacting to this butchery in a heroic fashion. In it Coppola implies that America invaded Vietnam because the Vietcong, in an attempt to screw up a vaccination programme, cut off children's arms. This is an entirely inaccurate portrayal of history (in fact it is a blatant lie).

This is just two examples. There are many more. Even films which originally attempted to show the human face of the 'accepted enemy' were cut to remove some of the scenes which would have contradicted the message portrayed to the public by government. For example the original version of 'The Killing Fields' had scenes which accurately portrayed Vietnamese soldiers aiding in the liberation of Cambodia but these were cut from the final version despite them depicting (but probably because they depicted) Vietnamese soldiers showing a degree of humanity in aiding Cambodians suffering horrifically at the hands of Pol Pot.

OK I have gabbled of far too long and maybe taken my point to too fine a detail (to make it clear this is not a pro Vietnam, anti American point - it is just used as an illustration).

I guess my question is to what extent do people feel films should be allowed to play with history?

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I haven't seen any of those films youve mentioned but one that really p*sses me off is The Patriot. I know alot of these films are only set in certain times, settings etc and are for entertainment not education but some idiots actually believe some of the crap made up in them.

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Films are far more accessible than actually reading it up in a book, so I do feel film makers should have some responsible of giving accurate portrayals. The film that really f**ks me off is U-571 where Americans board a German sub and find the Enigma code machine. In actual fact it was the English. The scenario is we could have a new generation of people with a distorted view of history.

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So your a big Oliver Stone fan then Loz? Every "historical" piece of crap he's ever made has been factually buggered. What get's me are the "based on a real story" films that are about 3% reality and 97% dramatization.

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I think if you are making a film that covers historical events then you are implicitly accepting a responsibility to be as true to actual events as possible, or that is how it should by. there is also the grey area of writing a piece of fiction set against historical events. perhaps in those instances it should be made explicit somehow that it is fictional, though often the story will not have any affect on the historical backdrop anyway.

you also have to consider that history itself changes- what may have been 'true' 20 years ago may be proven false in 10 years time.

but I do think the 'based on a true story' tags should be policed a lot more, and certainly be used far less liberally...

I don't really have a straight answer unfortunately, because it's an issue where context is vitally important.

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Another such example was the film The Hurricane, about the boxer Ruben Hurricane Carter. One of Carter's fights shown was his world title fight with Joey Giardello. Giardello was portrayed as a punch drunk bum who was beaten up by Carter from the first bell to last, and was then awarded a gift decision by the racist authorities. In reality, that was b*ll*cks, and every independent observer (commentators, ringside reporters, the referee and even Carter himself) conceded that Giardello was the worthy winner. But completely distorting the truth in that way suited the film's 'racist authorities, the entire world conspiring against Carter etc' narrative.

Giardello is still alive, and actually sued the producers for defamation, for which they had to pay him a substantial amount of money and change the final credits to say the events portrayed may not be accurate. Yet among all the millions of people who saw that film, and have no idea who Giardello is, his reputation has been tarnished.

Sure there is dramatic licence, but there has to be a limit. If a film claiming to be factual does take huge liberties with the truth then it should be made clear at the start. But then it depends what the point of a film is: to inform or entertain? It's a tough one. :huh:

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Today's film makers, like historians in the past, always show a biased and distorted view of history, as far as their country is concerned. As the saying goes, history is always written by the winners, and they always portray a war as a struggle between good and evil, where the winners in the end are always the good. Simply because they are the ones writing the history pages.

As far as the films go, they're pretty much the same, showcasing how great the particular country's history is and how great they are historically....even if its at the cost of the real truth. Obviously no one opposes. The best we can do is look up the history books for the truth, but that truth is as true as someone has written it.

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I remember my British Politics tutor Dr Denver (who worked on the Scottish devolution etc) going off on a tangent in one lecture about how nations can be portrayed. He then went into the inaccuracies of 'Braveheart'. It was spellbinding. But essentially he prefered the original story 'warts and all'. The comic Stewart Lee has done a sketch about the inaccuracies of the film, starting with the fact that he was not Australian ( :) ) but also the age of the Princess involved in the 'love affair' with William being six. He then says "I'm not saying your national hero was a pedophile..." and the Scots laugh uneasily.

The thing is if your are portaying something that is historic and factual then it is lazy and ignorant to distort it for the sake of Deux Machina.

The Americans do not realise this as it has never really been done to them, only to others such as us and the French.

But have a film with a Pakistani as a pot smoking Abraham Lincoln, or a Korean in a film adaptation of John Wayne's life in which it is shown that he had a 'liking' for 'houseboys'. Lets see what they would think of accuracy then..... :unsure: :huh:

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I remember my British Politics tutor Dr Denver (who worked on the Scottish devolution etc) going off on a tangent in one lecture about how nations can be portrayed. He then went into the inaccuracies of 'Braveheart'. It was spellbinding. But essentially he prefered the original story 'warts and all'. The comic Stewart Lee has done a sketch about the inaccuracies of the film, starting with the fact that he was not Australian ( :unsure: ) but also the age of the Princess involved in the 'love affair' with William being six. He then says "I'm not saying your national hero was a pedophile..." and the Scots laugh uneasily.

: :huh:

ha ha very true, I actually think it was younger than 6 - maybe only 2 or 3. Not sure if the French would be too happy at the idea of their royalty slapping it around as toddlers!!

I was living in Aberdeen when Braveheart came out and the Scottish National Party jumped on the bandwagon using the film to promote Scottish independence. At the early showings they were outside the cinema in force handing out flyers and trying to drum up support for the party. As a consequence on the whole 'Braveheart is pure fiction' thing did the rounds quite a few times with large parts of te film being torn apart by local historians.

As for Oliver Stone - I couldn't agree more Scott. On a recent holiday I saw Jim Morrison playing boule with Elvis and after a heated affair Morrison won on a play off. ELvis was not happy camper, especially as part of the bet on the game meant he had to hand over his prize steed Shergar. The Doors frontman was last seen riding off into the sunset for his ultimate boule duel against Lord Lucan. (coming to a cinema near you soon)

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On the one hand, some reputations are sullied, while others are ridiculously heroicised (I don't know if such a word exists). Whether it harms the world that generations grow up with a warped view of history I'm not sure. But there is little difference between Hollywood reinventing our past and Stalinist Russia airbrushing photos and rewriting school textbooks to create a fictitious image for themselves.

Shakespeare blackened the names of Macbeth and Richard the Third in order to suck up to the Tudors. While I take Loz's point that maligning people still alive or only recently dead is worse, there is a part of me that is troubled by the wholescale acceptance of ficthistory.

There are "based on true story" films where the plot is edited for dramatic effect without essentially altering the truth e.g. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (with Kevin Spacey and John Cusack) is a true story with some of the details omitted because the main character was tried several times for the same crime. Kevin Spacey did it brilliantly.

But the cr*p "based on a true story" film of all times, has to be the T*tanic.

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Yeah but Shakespear wasn't writing to suck up to the Tudors. It was Sir Francis Bacon writing under the guise of Shakespear.

Anyway, throughout history those in power have re-written the history books to suit their times. I think that the same can be said of Hollywood, they will wrtie, or produce movies in parlance of what is popular at the time. Also, the whole "truth" is like a game of chinese whispers. Prime example being in this thread even. William wallace, and the courting of the young french priness, for example. Either way, she was VERY young, but we've gone from aged 6, to age 2 or 3 in the space of a couple of posts. Ideas like that floating around a movie production set, they will chose whatever story they feel will draw more crowds.

Basically money talks in hollywood, and there are people who run major production companies who will want movies shot and produced in a manner that appeases them, and will make the most money. U571, certainly wouldn't have made as much money had it been the "limeys" who cracked anything that helped win the war!

Scott

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Basically money talks in hollywood, and there are people who run major production companies who will want movies shot and produced in a manner that appeases them, and will make the most money. U571, certainly wouldn't have made as much money had it been the "limeys" who cracked anything that helped win the war!

Scott

But hollywood in U571 re wrote a major bit of history - should they be allowed to do that? like someone else said it's possible that an entire generation, in the US and unfortunatly in the UK too will believe thats what actually happened.

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Yeah but Shakespear wasn't writing to suck up to the Tudors. It was Sir Francis Bacon writing under the guise of Shakespear.

Anyway, throughout history those in power have re-written the history books to suit their times. I think that the same can be said of Hollywood, they will wrtie, or produce movies in parlance of what is popular at the time. Also, the whole "truth" is like a game of chinese whispers. Prime example being in this thread even. William wallace, and the courting of the young french priness, for example. Either way, she was VERY young, but we've gone from aged 6, to age 2 or 3 in the space of a couple of posts. Ideas like that floating around a movie production set, they will chose whatever story they feel will draw more crowds.

Basically money talks in hollywood, and there are people who run major production companies who will want movies shot and produced in a manner that appeases them, and will make the most money. U571, certainly wouldn't have made as much money had it been the "limeys" who cracked anything that helped win the war!

Scott

There are no chinese whispers about it thought. She existed in real life and has a birthday! The fact that in this particular thread someone thought she was about 6 and another (i.e. me) about 2 or 3 is because we haven't bothered to check due to it not being all that material a fact. However if I was making a film with her in it I would make sure I got her age right!!

However of course it is about bums on seats and dollars in hand and in most cases I don't really care about it all that much. There are just a few things which are, for me especially sensitive, and I think if you can't make money telling the truth then they should be left alone. War films are one of those areas for me. In every war innocent people die, and often in their thousands, hundreds of thousands even millions - some of them are not fortunate enough to die, they are disfigured so badly that they wish they were dead, or they witness everyone they love being slaughtered and they have a lifelong prison sentence living with that grief. Then to rub salt in the wound they see some media mogul pocket millions by taking their story, raping it, and selling it as gospel.

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I agrere Loz, and in essence you have further proven my point. I think that the production companies will go with whatever sounds juicy, and rarely do check their facts. It is something as simple as checking a birthday, or historical accuracy and making sure that is part of the movie. I am not about to start picking apart the Braveheart inaccuracies, I was merely pointing out that in the space of this thread we have two differing opinions, or points of fact, about a specific fact in history. The Movie producers, like the tabloids, would probably run with the more "juicy" story.

Was it Jane Fonda, who, during the height of the Vietnam War went to Vietnam to show that they were not all blood thirsty killer? She was then labled a communist sympathiser and a national disgrace! The same could be said of anyone who challenges the US government recently, anyone who disagreed with the war or Bush was easily tarnished as a terrorist sympathiser!

Anyway, I degress, I think the dollar, yen, pound, Euro, whatever, rules. And if you are a small person who tried to show inaacuracies, ro challenge the general crux of the message, then these production companies would squash you like a bug!

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I think there should be a prominent warning at the start of films that play fast and loose with the historical facts - maybe there should also be subtitles saying "these scenes are a travesty of the truth but the director thought they add something".

One such scene that I found spellbinding on first viewing was in JFK when Costner's character (who was real) met up with a character played by Donald Sutherland, who made some stunning revelations about the way that security was deliberately weakened just before JFK's visit to Dallas. It was subsequently revealed that the Sutherland character was a total fabrication and the meeting never took place, but Oliver Stone claimed the scene was necessary to draw certain strands of the whole story together.

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I'm not sure if Fonda actually went to Vietnam (she may well have done) but she was very opposed to it and worked a lot with DOnald Sutherland to promote opposition to the war.

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yeah that is a pivotal moment in the JFK movie, but I think that it was done to avoid the movie going on and on! This then brings into question the whole "poetic liscence" question. Had that "character" not been part of the film, could we have gotten so much info, pertinent to the story, over so quickly.? Or would we have had to added another hour to the film?

I think that the adding, or subtraction of characters is not as important as the general facts of the story itself.

For example, I know a lot of Lord Of The Rings fellas were upset that Tom Bambodil was ommitted from the movie, a character who, if memory serves correct as it's been a while since i read the book, actually saved Frodo's life early on in the story? however, was he totally integral to the mian story? I don't feel he was. I don't really care about the addition of characters, and maybe Tom Bambodilw as a bad example because it is a fictitional story in the first place. but in the JFK story, adding a charcter to put over the fact that security was lessened around the time of the motorcade of JFK....I don't think that is a bad thing. So long as the facts are still being portrayed.

Scott

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I'm not sure if Fonda actually went to Vietnam (she may well have done) but she was very opposed to it and worked a lot with DOnald Sutherland to promote opposition to the war.

Don't know myself mate, all I know is she was villified for what she believed in because it was standing up against popular belief. I believe that she did go out there with her camera, or a camera crew....but I guess i am basing that on what I believe to be true, so in a way that would be worse than the Hollywood producers, right? ::clap2::

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Tom Bombadil - (Ok now we are shifting the theme of the thread) was a great but temporary character in LOTR and should maybe have been in the film (if only because he could have been a great comedic character) but it is easy to see why he wasn't. He does save Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam from some wraith creatures.

IN the book he was used mainly as a character who pointed the hobbits in the right direction on their journey and so I suppose it was easy to leave him out of the film without having a massively detrimental effect on the story.

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Don't know myself mate, all I know is she was villified for what she believed in because it was standing up against popular belief. I believe that she did go out there with her camera, or a camera crew....but I guess i am basing that on what I believe to be true, so in a way that would be worse than the Hollywood producers, right? ::clap2::

But if you made a film of her life you would check it out before adding it in. Otherwise you would have me moaning at you :D

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Two things.

When Oliver Stone's film came out it was much discussed this this was his interpretation and was not just passed off as fact with no explanation.

Jane Fonda started out as just one of many famous Americans to speak out about the Vietnam war, however what she did to so upset US public opinion was on a tour she posed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun...used of course to shoot down US Planes.

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Many movies have played with history and some of them made major mistakes. In my opinion, if you are going to do a history based movie do it right with the right facts and research. As a history student, I sometimes get really annoyed by the mistakes or changes that are made on purpose to either change the real facts, on the purpose to make one side look good and the other evil. Some movies are huge mistakes and destroy complitaly the concept and story, like Pearl Harbour (why oh why did they ruin what could have been a perfectly good movie with a love soap), U-571 and I would have said The Patriot, but the director said on numerous occasions that the movie was entirely fictional.

If you want good movies, with pretty good historical accuracy:

HBO mini-series Band of Brothers - incredible piece of work, great action, and on the long run you see the american soldies make a connection with the german soldiers and how they are all going trough the war

Joyeux Noel - Incredible movie...they have made changes to the real story, but this is an incredible piss of work. Set on christmas day in 1914, tells the tale on how German, French and Scot soldiers made peace for the night. Really shows how all sides suffered trough the war.

Der Untertag (Downfall) - Story about the last days of Hitler in his bunker told by one of his scretaries

There are some more that I really like, but those three are my favourites, and should be watched by everyone. They are all well acclaimed productions and pretty easy to find. Why these movies are good in my opinion, is that they go a bit further and look back at history from all sides. OK, Band Of Brothers is a typical american WW2 series, but even there, with all the inputs from the veterans, the Germans are (well in some parts they are) not downgraded as some other movies do (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds85Zko0cT0 probably one of the best scenes).

p.s. how do add youtube clips on this new format?

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Interesting thread.

I think that in a progressively illiterate, short attention-span world, the film industry does have a duty to get the facts right, as well as entertain.

The problem is, of course, that true events do not always follow classic narrative structures. Also, that events do not always sit easily with current social mores.

I'm currently loving the row between Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee over 'Flags of our Fathers' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima', two of the most brilliant films about war I've ever watched, for what it's worth.

Lee accuses Eastwood of not accurately representing the amount of afro-americans that fought in the battle, and therefore aiding to the historical write-out of black men from the US WW2 effort.

Eastwood's retort is that his film, 'Flags of our Fathers' is primarily concerned with the 8 men who lifted the flag on the hill in the iconic photo, none of whom was black (one of whom was native american, though). He also adds, tactfully, that Jones should go f*ck himself - or words to that effect.

So here we have an accurate historical film-maker being berated for not redressing historical inaccuracies in a wider canon of work, even though to do so would be historically inaccurate!

Beat that!

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