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Film and History

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Film and History

Postby Madcity Expat » Tue May 31, 2011 11:54 am

I saw Cinderella Man recently and enjoyed it quite a bit. I had some quibbles with it as "history," but I try to not get too worked up over the degree of "accuracy" of historical films - to do so fails to recognize that films are, by definition, fictional story-telling. If one wants accuracy, then a quality documentary is what's in order.

But that started me thinking - in their lifetime, most folks probably will see far more fictionalized historical films (of the "based on a true story" type) than they will take history classes or read non-fiction history books (perhaps a handful each?). A fair assumption?

So... what is the role of movies in generating historical knowledge in our society?

And, what were the last couple of films you saw based, ostensibly, on historical events?

Did you understand them as history? Or as fiction? Both?

Did you wonder "what was real" in the film? Did you research the history at all? (i.e. look it up on google, or anything else?)

Just curious...
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Re: Film and History

Postby Madcity Expat » Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:34 am

Hmm... too teacherly of me? Apologies, I'm not trying to quiz anyone.

How about this - anyone see "Kingdom of Heaven" a couple of years back? Or Cinderella Man?

How about - Thirteen Days, Good Night and Good Luck, Dr Strangelove, Blood Diamond, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Platoon, Patton, Paths of Glory, Tora Tora Tora, Elizabeth, The Queen, The King's Speech, Lion in Winter, Mrs Brown, The Madness of King George, Amadaus, The Thirteenth Warrior, Braveheart, Rob Roy, Kidnapped, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Michael Collins, Gandhi, Empire of the Sun, The Last Emperor, Gladiator, Sparticus, Ben Hur, Black Hawk Down, Robin Hood, Glory, Cold Mountain, Gone With the Wind, There Will Be Blood, Dances with Wolves, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Last of the Mohicans, The Alamo...

Any other films that belong on the short list? Any of these that should be scrubbed?

What do any of these movies have to do with history?
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Re: Film and History

Postby Exploding Pinto » Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:53 am

Well, I'll quibble a bit.

Film is not, by definition, fictional storytelling. And quality documentaries shouldn't necessarily be equated to accuracy--and certainly not objectivity.

It's up to the director if he chooses to re-write history or showcase
continuity in a narrative film. If a director does do so, he doesn't necessarily have the stronger film. I think, at least in this country, we do tend to judge a film as accurate/inaccurate or realistic/unrealistic over an artistic expression without rules to conform to, though.
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Re: Film and History

Postby c02 » Wed Jun 01, 2011 11:22 am

One of my all time favorite movies and just DVR'd it on Monday:

The Longest Day

A fair bit of romanticism but I think it was fairly accurate from what I recall as a sophomore in H.S. Not only was it a great movie but the amount of what we now refer to as 'A' listers is also impressive.
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Re: Film and History

Postby Madcity Expat » Wed Jun 01, 2011 11:24 am

Exploding Pinto wrote:Well, I'll quibble a bit.

Film is not, by definition, fictional storytelling. And quality documentaries shouldn't necessarily be equated to accuracy--and certainly not objectivity.

It's up to the director if he chooses to re-write history or showcase
continuity in a narrative film. If a director does do so, he doesn't necessarily have the stronger film. I think, at least in this country, we do tend to judge a film as accurate/inaccurate or realistic/unrealistic over an artistic expression without rules to conform to, though.


Fair enough.

I guess when I wrote of film as fictional "by definition" I was thinking of the examples like "Kingdom of Heaven," "Cinderella Man," or "Apollo 13." Which are fictionalized interpretations of historical events. As opposed to conventional documentaries which are non-fictional interpretations of historical or contemporary events. Although - as you rightly point out - interpretation features heavily in both cases.

You also raised an excellent point about the question of "accuracy." Accuracy will have a fuzzy relationship with either fictionalized or non-fictional accounts of history, yes?

Where, then, does the boundary lie between fiction and non-fiction in film portrayals of history? And how important is "accuracy" in historical film? Of some importantce, one would have to say, or else the portrayal becomes so detached from events it ceases to have anything to do with history at all. (Say, "Timeline" or "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" - Costner's version)

But it's not that simple, is it. Even scholarly interpretations are interpretations, after all. And some films - say Dr Strangelove or Monty Python's Holy Grail - may be excellent "historical" films (Cold War and Medieval Europe) even though they are not "accurate" in any scholarly or documentary sense.
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Re: Film and History

Postby Madcity Expat » Wed Jun 01, 2011 11:32 am

c02 wrote:One of my all time favorite movies and just DVR'd it on Monday:

The Longest Day

A fair bit of romanticism but I think it was fairly accurate from what I recall as a sophomore in H.S. Not only was it a great movie but the amount of what we now refer to as 'A' listers is also impressive.


Yea, good movie. It's been a while since I've seen it. But from what I remember, it deals with the question of time better than "Saving Private Ryan." I enjoyed (if that's the right word) the invasion scene from "Private Ryan," but it left the viewer with the impression that 15 min of hard fighting and the grunts stormed those German pill boxes. But, depending on the beach, most allies soldiers were pinned down on the beaches for hours.

A forgivable sin, perhaps - movies have to flex time in order to fit into the 120min story framework.
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Re: Film and History

Postby pjbogart » Wed Jun 15, 2011 7:02 pm

Try "Band of Brothers" for an historical film. It's a 15 hour film produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and is, essentially, the historically accurate "Saving Private Ryan." The film is based upon a novel by the same name, written by a member of the US Airborne 101st. It follows his company (Easy) all the way from basic training to the end of WWII.

Although there may be a bit of Hollywood mixed in to make it less depressing, "Band of Brothers" is an epic journey that really focuses on the people involved. Events like The Battle of the Bulge/Bastogne, the liberation of a small concentration camp and the taking of The Eagle's Nest are really told through the eyes of the witnesses. There was nothing glorious about Bastogne. It was a hellish nightmare and the wounds that it left on the men who served there will never heal. After discovering a concentration camp filled with starving Jewish men, they're forced to lock the prisoners back up and move on, realizing that the men desperately need medical attention more than freedom and you can't simply fill a starving man with an MRE to make everything better. Throughout the movie the "brothers" lose each other, from fatalities to lost limbs to lost minds.

In one of the most haunting scenes from the movie, at least for me, after liberating a Dutch or French city, an angry mob rounds up the women who were fraternizing with the German occupiers. As Easy Company is leaving town they roll past a mother dressed only in rags and underwear, begging for food while carrying her infant child. Her head has been shaved and a swastika carved into her forehead. She too is a victim of the war, as is her child.

"Band of Brothers" might not technically be a documentary, but if you're looking for a war movie that shows you the ugly underbelly, it shouldn't be missed. If you're looking to shave a bit off the 15 hour pricetag, start watching from the second episode. The basic training episode is probably the most forgettable and mostly just introduces you to some of the main characters.
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Re: Film and History

Postby supaunknown » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:16 am

Contrary to the way it's often portrayed in film, when the Grand Poobah of Rome gave you the thumbs up, that meant death. Thumbs down meant you lived.
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Re: Film and History

Postby dave esmond » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:24 am

pjbogart wrote:The film is based upon a novel by the same name, written by a member of the US Airborne 101st. It follows his company (Easy) all the way from basic training to the end of WWII.


It's a work of non-fiction written by Stephen Ambrose. I liked the book quite a bit.

Very good miniseries too.
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Re: Film and History

Postby kurt_w » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:40 am

One issue here is that a lot of "history" films are based on literature that may have its own problems with history. In that case, should the moviemaker strive to be faithful to the source book, or to what we now understand as "real" history?

A nice example of this quandary is one of my all-time favorite films, the early 1990s version of "Last of the Mohicans" with Daniel Day Lewis. The movie is following a story that is best described as thoroughly fictionalized history.

Actually, that movie is also a nice example of something that really irks me -- films where a great deal of effort is made to ensure historical accuracy in some respects, but others are glaringly wrong. My understanding is that the filmmakers put a huge amount of work into ensuring the realism of the language and artifacts ... but then they filmed it in the Carolinas (I think) when it's set in upstate New York. This was totally unnecessary -- there's millions of acres of highly scenic wilderness in the Adirondacks. Thus you have eco-historically inaccurate scenes of Hawkeye crashing through forests of rhododendrons and whatnot.

Why bother worrying about subtle details of Magua's belt or whatever, if you're going to accidentally send him 800 miles south of where he is supposed to be?

But it's still a great movie. :D
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Re: Film and History

Postby Henry Vilas » Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:30 pm

Some films get it wrong right from the start. Example, Krakatoa: East of Java. It's actually west of Java.
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Re: Film and History

Postby kurt_w » Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:42 pm

Henry Vilas wrote:Some films get it wrong right from the start. Example, Krakatoa: East of Java. It's actually west of Java.


I suppose you could go with Krakatoa: Very, Very Far East of Java.
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Re: Film and History

Postby city2countrygal » Fri Aug 10, 2012 11:14 pm

Madcity Expat wrote:And, what were the last couple of films you saw based, ostensibly, on historical events?

Did you understand them as history? Or as fiction? Both?

Did you wonder "what was real" in the film? Did you research the history at all? (i.e. look it up on google, or anything else?)

Although not a new release, I just watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Not only does this movie have the story of 9/11, including the eerie images of bodies falling from the towers, it also hints at the trauma suffered by a child of the Holocaust.

Did you have something special with a parent like Oskar did with his dad? I might have mentioned my love of cars came from helping my dad work on cars in our garage, especially body work and paint.
I was lucky to drive some fun cars in high school because we got them cheap after a Crash, then repainted them whatever color we wanted (or got cheap). Dual colors and pinstripes were our specialty!

I also had my red 10-speed bicycle (an awesome Centurion) stolen out of our garage. It was the best Christmas present I ever got! (Random sidenote)

I didn't pinch myself like Oskar, I used drugs and booze to escape
the thought of never seeing my dad again, and not working on cars with him. That's why I love my car so much, and why I lovingly take care of it. (And why it's red;)

I'm proud to say I've got 1 year & 3 months sobriety from alcohol,
and a little over 2 months off weed. I can smell things now I never imagined I could, or ever wanted to!

This post is dedicated to my friends who miss their parents and the fun projects they did together. Miss you!
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Re: Film and History

Postby Igor » Fri Aug 10, 2012 11:44 pm

I don't like it when movies mess with plots (historical or not) when it is not necessary. For example, the Lord of the Rings movies: getting rid of Tom Bombadil - good idea. Changing the plot about the battle in front of Minas Tirith - dumb idea. It didn't help the story, and treating it the right way could have been handled in 5 minutes or less - time that could have been shaved off innumerable scenes.

I'm okay with putting events out of order sometimes, or combining characters. Band of Brothers, as someone mentioned, is awesome.
I think Tora Tora Tora and Midway are pretty accurate, to the point of probably making the movies boring for non-fans of history.

I don't like it when they manufacture a false personality for someone though. It seems pretty clear Max Baer did not get a fair shake in Cinderella Man, and I think they could have still made that a great movie without misrepresenting him.
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Re: Film and History

Postby city2countrygal » Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:35 am

As much as I want him to
My dad is never coming back.
I thought I couldn't live without him
But now I know I can.
I think that would make my dad proud,
which is all I ever wanted.

[From the movie]
city2countrygal wrote:I also had my red 10-speed bicycle (an awesome Centurion) stolen out of our garage. It was the best Christmas present I ever got! (Random sidenote)

FYI: It was my first 10-speed, so I must have been like 10 years old
or something. I don't like to quote myself, but I'm especially pissy tonight.
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