Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

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John F
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Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by John F » Sun Feb 17, 2013 7:08 am

Considering how little American history most Americans know, and that they get much of what they think they know from popular entertainment such as the movies, to deliberately mislead them like this is pretty scandalous. But typical.

The Oscar for Best Fabrication
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: February 16, 2013

WASHINGTON - I saw “Argo” with Jerry Rafshoon, who was a top aide to President Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis, when six Americans escaped and were given sanctuary for three months by courageous Canadian diplomats.

We were watching a scene where a C.I.A. guy can’t get through to Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s chief of staff, to sign off on plane tickets for the escaping hostages, so he pretends to be calling from the school where Jordan’s kids go.

“Hamilton wasn’t married then and didn’t have any kids,” Jerry whispered, inflaming my pet peeve about filmmakers who make up facts in stories about real people to add “drama,” rather than just writing the real facts better. It makes viewers think that realism is just another style in art, so that no movie, no matter how realistic it looks, is believable.

The affable and talented Ben Affleck has admitted that his film’s climax, with Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers jumping in a jeep, chasing the plane down the runway and shooting at it, was fabricated for excitement.

Hollywood always wants it both ways, of course, but this Oscar season is rife with contenders who bank on the authenticity of their films until it’s challenged, and then fall back on the “Hey, it’s just a movie” defense.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” “based on firsthand accounts of actual events,” has been faulted for leaving the impression that torture was instrumental in the capture of Osama. It celebrates Jessica Chastain’s loner character, “Maya,” when it could have more accurately and theatrically highlighted “The Sisterhood,” a team of female C.I.A. analysts who were part of the long effort.

And then there’s the kerfuffle over “Lincoln,” which had three historical advisers but still managed to make some historical bloopers. Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that “Lincoln” falsely showed two of Connecticut’s House members voting “Nay” against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery.

“They were trying to be meticulously accurate even down to recording the ticking of Abraham Lincoln’s actual pocket watch,” Courtney told me. “So why get a climactic scene so off base?”

Courtney is pushing for Spielberg to acknowledge the falsity in the DVD, a quest that takes on more urgency now that Spielberg has agreed to provide a DVD to every middle and high school that requests it.

Tony Kushner, the acclaimed playwright who wrote the screenplay, told me he was outraged that Courtney was getting his 15 minutes by complaining about a 15-second bit of film on a project that Kushner worked on for seven years. The writer completely rejects the idea that he has defamed Connecticut, or the real lawmakers who voted “Aye.” He said that in historical movies, as opposed to history books where you go for “a blow-by-blow account,” it is completely acceptable to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth. History doesn’t always organize itself according to the rules of drama. It’s ridiculous. It’s like saying that Lincoln didn’t have green socks, he had blue socks.” He feels that if he had changed the margin of the vote, or made someone a villain who was not in real life, that would have been inappropriate. (He’s one-up on Shakespeare there.) But he wants “wiggle room” on some things.

Spielberg’s production people called the National Archives in 2011 to get a copy of the original voting roll and to plumb deeply into the details of the vote on one of America’s most searing moral battles, even asking whether the vote was recorded in a bound volume or on loose ledger forms. That roll shows that the first two votes cast were “Nays” by Democratic congressmen from Illinois, Lincoln’s own state. Wasn’t that enough to show the tension?

Kushner explained that in his original script he thought, as in the musical “1776” or the Continental Congress or conventions, the lawmakers voted by state, so Connecticut would have been one of the first Union states to vote.

Harold Holzer, a Lincoln historian attached to the film, pointed out the mistake to Spielberg and Kushner, telling them that voting in those days was done alphabetically by lawmaker. But Kushner said the director left the scene unchanged because it gave the audience “place holders,” and it was “a rhythmic device” that was easier to follow than “a sea of names.” They gave fake names to the Connecticut legislators, who were, he said, “not significant players.”

Yet The Wall Street Journal noted, “The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment.” One, the New London Republican Augustus Brandegee, was a respected abolitionist and a friend of Lincoln. The other, the New Haven Democrat James English, considered slavery “a monstrous injustice” and left his ill wife to vote. When he said “Aye,” applause began and the tide turned.

I’m a princess-and-the-pea on this issue, but I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in “Illinois” for “Connecticut” before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty.

Kushner says that won’t happen, because this is a “made-up issue” and a matter of “principle.” But as Congressman Courtney notes: “It was Lincoln who said. ‘Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.’ ”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/opini ... ation.html
John Francis

piston
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by piston » Mon Feb 18, 2013 7:47 am

I listened to what Courtney had to say on NPR with great interest. Of course, he is right in pressing for changing or removing that CT voting scene in the movie if the film is to serve an educational purpose. If dramatization leads to historical inaccuracy, then why market the production as a great educational tool?

But this question is not always so straightforward as a completely fabricated vote on the 13th amendment. Cultural producers, including authors who pose as historians, have been known to intentionally confuse their audience by blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction, between facts and creative inventions.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

dulcinea
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by dulcinea » Sun Feb 24, 2013 2:30 pm

piston wrote:I listened to what Courtney had to say on NPR with great interest. Of course, he is right in pressing for changing or removing that CT voting scene in the movie if the film is to serve an educational purpose. If dramatization leads to historical inaccuracy, then why market the production as a great educational tool?

But this question is not always so straightforward as a completely fabricated vote on the 13th amendment. Cultural producers, including authors who pose as historians, have been known to intentionally confuse their audience by blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction, between facts and creative inventions.
Take notice of my complaint about how Hugh Hudson and Sidney Pollack slandered Eric Liddell, Harold Abrahams and Isak Dinesen.
Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord! Alleluya!

John F
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by John F » Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:42 am

I've read elsewhere defenses of this and other transgressions against the truth on the grounds that movies aren't scholarly works and regardless of their subject, are fair game for movie makers. I say that's a deeply false view. If a movie purports to be an account of history or biography, as with "Lincoln" and "Schindler's List," it should meet the basic expectation of history and biography, that it tell the story truthfully, or at least avoid known untruths. Otherwise we've got nothing better than big-budget Fox News.

How does "Lincoln" differ from works like Tom Stoppard's "The Invention of Love," which is based on the life of A.E. Housman and his feelings toward Moses Jackson? First of all, Stoppard is scrupulous and exhaustive in his preparatory research, and second, he makes it clear from the rise of the curtain that this isn't a straightforward biography - in the first scene, Housman is dead and is seen standing on the bank of the river Styx, and throughout the play, as Wikipedia puts it, the dead Housman "comments on and occasionally talks to the characters on stage, including his younger self." Faced with situations and events which everybody knows are obviously impossible, we are not misled.

Another Stoppard play, "Travesties," puts James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and even Lenin on the stage, but the play isn't about them, and anyway it's a pretty wild comedy.

If Toni Kushner and Steven Spielberg want to claim the right to fictionalize "Lincoln," their intention should have been made clear in the movie itself, up front, with either a disclaimer or a frame (as in "The Invention of Love") warning the audience that what they're about to see isn't necessarily what actually happened. Of course this would undercut the movie's appeal; audiences are interested in the real Abraham Lincoln and what actually happened, not in Kushner's and Spielberg's fabrication however effective. If that's the price of honesty, so be it.

As for dulcinea's comment: in your other thread, you don't tell us of any actual misstatements of fact in the movies you mention. Your only specific complaint is about the casting of one role in one movie. That has nothing to do with the deliberate factual misstatements in "Lincoln," and it isn't slander.
John Francis

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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:45 pm

In the Academic Bowl playoffs, I wrote a category about Hollywood and history. Most of the questions were on the order of "What city was burned in Gone with the Wind"? But one was about falsification. However, I drew my example from a way-back movie, Mary Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave from 1971, a movie I remember because that is where my senior prom date and I went as our only date prior to the prom (or ever after). The movie, which I can recommend, and which contains much real history even if we don't know the exact words spoken, shows two dramatically effective meetings between Mary and her eventual executioner Elizabeth I. The problem is that they never met. Of course, no modern entity is going to be offended by this the way Connecticut is about Lincoln, but I'm sure the list of undisclosed false history in movies is endless.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by John F » Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:11 pm

I wonder if that movie wasn't based on Schiller's play "Maria Stuart," also the source of Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda." The climactic scene is a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth - much more dramatic than an exchange of letters. :) I don't think many people would expect Schiller to have written a straightforward docudrama, let alone Donizetti, but the movie might have seemed such a thing; I haven't seen it.
John Francis

dulcinea
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by dulcinea » Tue Feb 26, 2013 9:25 am

As for dulcinea's comment: in your other thread, you don't tell us of any actual misstatements of fact in the movies you mention. Your only specific complaint is about the casting of one role in one movie. That has nothing to do with the deliberate factual misstatements in "Lincoln," and it isn't slander.[/quote]
If you read mine post again you will see that my criticism is that Liddell, Abrahams and Dinesen were portrayed as dull uninteresting people with all the charisma of a parking meter; can you envision Lincoln portrayed in like manner? In one potentially dramatic scene, Streepthroat is told that she has venereal disease. Does she react in an appropriately emotional tearful manner? No; her reaction is so understated and muted you would think she had been told that she had an ingrown toenail.
Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord! Alleluya!

John F
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by John F » Tue Feb 26, 2013 9:45 am

dulcinea wrote:If you read mine post again you will see that my criticism is that Liddell, Abrahams and Dinesen were portrayed as dull uninteresting people with all the charisma of a parking meter; can you envision Lincoln portrayed in like manner? In one potentially dramatic scene, Streepthroat is told that she has venereal disease. Does she react in an appropriately emotional tearful manner? No; her reaction is so understated and muted you would think she had been told that she had an ingrown toenail.
That's not about matters of fact, the topic of this thread. Is it a fact that the real "Streepthroat" really did react in what you consider "an appropriately emotional tearful manner"? Or is that merely how you imagine she should have acted, whether she actually did or not?
John Francis

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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by lennygoran » Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:19 am

John F wrote:I wonder if that movie wasn't based on Schiller's play "Maria Stuart," also the source of Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda." The climactic scene is a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth - much more dramatic than an exchange of letters. :) I don't think many people would expect Schiller to have written a straightforward docudrama, let alone Donizetti, but the movie might have seemed such a thing; I haven't seen it.
Now you're talking-donizetti history-way to go! Len on the run

lennygoran
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by lennygoran » Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:22 am

dulcinea wrote:As for dulcinea's comment: in your other thread, you don't tell us of any actual misstatements of fact in the movies you mention. Your only specific complaint is about the casting of one role in one movie. That has nothing to do with the deliberate factual misstatements in "Lincoln," and it isn't slander.
If you read mine post again you will see that my criticism is that Liddell, Abrahams and Dinesen were portrayed as dull uninteresting people with all the charisma of a parking meter; can you envision Lincoln portrayed in like manner? In one potentially dramatic scene, Streepthroat is told that she has venereal disease. Does she react in an appropriately emotional tearful manner? No; her reaction is so understated and muted you would think she had been told that she had an ingrown toenail.[/quote]


Don't underestimate these new parking meters-p0aying with a credit card can be quite an adventure! Len

dulcinea
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Re: Hollywood: It ain't necessarily so

Post by dulcinea » Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:50 pm

John F wrote:
dulcinea wrote:If you read mine post again you will see that my criticism is that Liddell, Abrahams and Dinesen were portrayed as dull uninteresting people with all the charisma of a parking meter; can you envision Lincoln portrayed in like manner? In one potentially dramatic scene, Streepthroat is told that she has venereal disease. Does she react in an appropriately emotional tearful manner? No; her reaction is so understated and muted you would think she had been told that she had an ingrown toenail.
That's not about matters of fact, the topic of this thread. Is it a fact that the real "Streepthroat" really did react in what you consider "an appropriately emotional tearful manner"? Or is that merely how you imagine she should have acted, whether she actually did or not?
Can you imagine yourself reacting in an understated and muted way to being told that you have VD, which in the case of Dinesen lasted her entire life? As for Streepthroat, her performance in Pollack's potboiler is so flat and lifeless that it cannot be called a believable impersonation of that illustrious figure of Danish literature. If you don't believe it, read WIKI's bios of Dinesen, Liddell and Abrahams, in which the three REALLY COME TO LIFE.
Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord! Alleluya!

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