Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Sunday Question: Truth in Film

The Sunday Question is back and ready to go. So get your minds ready, and let the debate begin!

This Week's Prompt: Do films based on historical events, or individuals, have any obligation to present the narrative as truthfully as possible? If not, to what extent should they be allowed artistic freedom?

Considerations: This is a tricky one considering that if you go back through all of our films based on historical events and people have, on some level, been altered in favor of cinematic simplification, dramatic impact, or simply pacing.This can involve changing everything from the year something happened, to the very situation in which they exemplified themselves. On some level I believe many come to expect it, but it also seems to me people fail to forget it. All too often ignoring historical fact in favor of the far more appealing cinematic presentation. I'm sure those who care more about history than others will care more for accuracy, but so much gets put into play when they make these films it may be hard to draw the line between profit, appeal, and studio.

Let the debate, begin!

8 better thoughts:

snobbyfilmguy said...

For most audiences today films are viewed to simply be entertained. It's therefore assumed that history is boring. Is this the filmmakers,script writers, or the audiences fault? Or is history simply boring? Take Lee's Ride with the Devil and it's historical accuracy. It' intertwines truth with a fictional story to make the film entertaining AND accurate. On the other hand, there's Capote. If it had been completely accurate we wouldn't have needed Infamous. It's no surprise which one got the most attention. Point? When a painter paints a portrait it never comes out EXACTLY like the real person. Films don't have to be historically accurate to be entertaining and truthful.

filmgeek said...

I've always pondered this one, especially when it comes to biopics that I really enjoyed like Walk the Line and The Young Victoria. I get that things can't be 100% accurate - like conversations had between people etc - but I wonder how truthful films like Notorious (the Biggie Smalls film) are and what kind of bias the producers (relatives) have... As long actual events are included and nothing is added/changed for the sake of entertainment, I'm ok with it. I hate to think that anything in The Young Victoria or Walk the Line regarding the relationships is exaggerated or added

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think if the essence of what really occured is captured, that's probably close enough. After all, no one knows or remembers exact conversations, so it can never be totally accurate. Even documentaries often speculate.

snobbyfilmguy said...

Curious to know peoples thoughts on using historical figures and circumstances in films that go way fictional like QTs great Inglourious Basterds. Where does this fit into the conversation?

Simon said...

I don't know. Probably.

Yojimbo_5 said...

A good story is a good story. Movies traditionally streamline events, combine characters, and "write to silence" (because there's no one left who was present to object). But...it is a writer's duty to point out inaccuracies, and downright fabrications (even though it's assumed that a draatic film is not a documentary). "Get Low" is based on a true story, but entirely makes up the back-story. "JFK" has little resemblance to reality. "American Gangster" gets the names and the over-arching story right...but that's about it.

I suppose one must look at dramatic films as myth. Or, as they say in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:" "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Univarn said...

@Everyone Thanks for your comments and all around good points. My main qualm with this is that films must present their fabrications as truth, by blending it with fellow truths, or the film won't work. Due to that, and I would say a growing sense of historical negligence on people's behalf, more and more people don't distinguish between film drama and real life.

For example: Rudy. A few months back a lot of the more sports knowledgeable people I know were shocked when the real final Rudy play appeared on Youtube and was nothing like the movies. Add to that the coach in the finale was vilified for dramatic effect. I don't think people should have been "shocked" by that. Let alone be something that required hours of their twitter debate time.

It's not the movies fault that they didn't know the truth of the events, but there also should be a question of: Does the change in the movie, makes things better. Would we have felt more emotional if the coach was a good guy? I doubt it, especially in the context of everything else that happened.

I also don't mind them simplifying tons of characters into a few composite characters (as they did in films like October Sky). Though people should be made aware of it.

I suppose a better question might be: Are people too succeptable to buy fiction in film when blended with history/fact? Like a JFK.

Julian Stark said...

I think it depends on what kind of event it is. I think that small liberties can be taken in any case. If it's something that isn't well-known, then I think some more liberties can be taken. Regardless, as long as you don't change the main events, I think it's moderately okay.

The only case where I throw this logic out of the window is the aforementioned Inglourious Basterds. I mean, that's the ending to WWII that would have been preferred!

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