Edit: Can a film based on real events be considered great if it’s factually inaccurate?
Anyway, Stone’s JFK made me think of this. It’s factually inaccurate, dishonest, and wildly speculative. It’s also a great film imo. However, in order to consider it great one has to totally detach the film from the reality which it purports to be portraying accurately and instead view it as fiction. Is this something you’re prepared (or even able) to do in order to enjoy a film, or do you reject any film which is deceitful in this way?
If those inaccuracies make the film more poetic or interesting, absolutely
Of course it can.
I think JFK is more of a rebuttal witness to the Warren Commission Report. Jim Marrs wrote one of the books the film is based on, and he’s a full-fledged member of the tinfoil hat society, so good history it is not.
(by the way, for the record, because of the way things work, most high school history textbooks are factually inaccurate and dishonest, so if we’re OK with whacko official versions, we should be OK expressionist history in film)
How many great movies are factually accurate? Probably not many.
For me, it depends on the genre and intent of the film. But even then, factual truth and greatness are not so irrevocably tied to each other that distinctions can’t be made. A lot of people consider Birth of a Nation and Triumph of Will to be great films (based on form, I imagine) even though they are propagandizing blatant historical inaccuracies and lies. It depends on how you measure ‘greatness’, too.
The factually accurate films are the most dishonest ones. They’re the ones where the director can most easily pass his intellectual agenda as moral fact.
Yes, because films based on real events are not documentaries. Accuracy is not the main criteria, it’s arguably not even an important criteria.
Depends if you’re trying to convey accuracy.
Unless the film’s purpose is specifically to convey an accurate depiction of what happened and to whom then factual accuracy is entirely irrelevant. Most films “based on a true story” simply use their basis on fact as a shortcut to manipulating the audience and to add another, often artificial, layer to the movie.
JFK’s factual inaccuracies are the least of its problems. All art is a lie, don’t look to movies, or fiction in general, for that kind of truth.
I think you guys are too quick to let directors off the hook. Considering how influential film is as a medium vis-a-vis books, don’t you think that artists have at least some responsibility to present events as truthfully as possible?
Just saying that all fiction is lies doesn’t cut it for me.
Poetic license is fine, but surely there are limits.
the evidence shows otherwise cannot be considered a work on the very highest level. Just look at
what,s happening now in the Middle East
So be specific — are there films that cross those limits?
For me Oliver Stone’s use of a blatantly agonizingly obviously doctored photo to depict an allegedly doctored photo in JFK is the most appalling crossing of that limit. Otherwise, yeah, I’ll let them off the hook. It’s art, it isn’t supposed to be that kind of truth. Unless it sets itself up as being That Kind Of Truth, of course.
Unless you are watching a documentary (and even then there’s a grey zone), there should be no expectation that a film based on fact will be factual. Filmmakers are not historians, they are artists. A quality fact based film should make you want to research the subject further and not take it as face value. It is the filmmaker’s job to make a great film, which will often be very different than an accurate one.
Presenting facts accurately does not guarantee accuracy of interpretation.
Non-fiction is just as fictional as fiction. In both cases the writer is manipulating facts to tell the story he wants, the only difference is that in non-fiction, the facts being manipulated resemble things that happened in real life.
Ford took a relatively insignificant period in U.S. history and turned it into the American equivalent of Homer’s Odyssey. [Technically so did Kurosawa, but with Japan]
When one ignores historic context to literally create the myth we all believe to be our modern existence… Who cares about accuracy?
But there are very few filmmakers that do what Ford did. Something like Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows ignores the event upon which it’s based to make the depiction of the children simplistic and falsely heroic.
I didn’t see Nobody Knows as portraying the kids as heroic. The oldest child certainly thought he was being heroic, but based on the misguided premise that keeping his siblings together was better for them than having a present adult guardian.
“I think you guys are too quick to let directors off the hook. Considering how influential film is as a medium vis-a-vis books, don’t you think that artists have at least some responsibility to present events as truthfully as possible?”
But books, even purportedly factual history books, distort real events all the time. Why? Because even the most “objective” accounts are told from a particular perspective. Once that perspective gets written down, it becomes a dead thing, and the rest of us keep on moving without it. I do agree that there are always some ethical values at play, but it’s tricky to formulate what “crosses the line” and what doesn’t because history tends to nudge even the line itself alone with it.
Uhhh… the eldest child attempts to have, I believe, two fathers take responsibility for the situation in the film and they balk. He doesn’t believe they don’t need an adult, he knows that they have no choice. Thus he must rise to the occasion and become the hero, the adult. He even catches the interest of a girl for his plight.
In reality, the friends of the eldest child beat the youngest to death and buried her.
I feel it also depends to what ends the film is going with its utilizations of “the true story”.
Hawks’ Sergeant York for example, to me anyway, is a glamorization of American patriotism sold on the idea that it actually happened, despite some glaring revisions of the truth of York’s actions – once I had read about that scene of him being struck by lightning being a dramatic liberty in place of him more or less overcoming his alcoholism on his own, I felt I understood what the aim of the picture was, even if it was released before Pearl Harbor.
On the other hand, using a more recent example, Mann’s The Insider, I felt that despite certain dramatizations involved they were done to better exemplify the point of that whole situation, more so exemplified off-screen I felt by Charlie Rose’s obviously biased interview with Mann on the film, where he basically said he was to be loyal to the media machine that Mann criticized in his film and openly derisive to Mann and his film, even going so far as to more or less suggesting Spielberg would have done a better job. At least Mann was able to keep face and composure compared to the obviously bought-and-sold Rose.
Mann: “I concentrate obviously more on the making of the film than the marketing of the film.”
Rose: “Perhaps that’s a mistake.”
He didn’t attempt to have them take responsibility, he attempted to have them give him money knowing they wouldn’t take responsibility. But he never took them to any adult who was empowered to hook them up with new homes because he didn’t want the family split apart.
What does it matter how the real events the film is based on unfolded? Kore-eda probably thought the shock value of the real events would distract attention from the theme of neglect and willful ignorance hew as trying to convey.
Kore-eda probably thought the shock value of the real events would distract attention from the theme of neglect and willful ignorance he was trying to convey.
Yes, but if you’re going to deviate from the facts in such a fundamental way then why base the story on the real events in the first place?
“But he never took them to any adult who was empowered…”
What adult did he know that was “empowered”? He’d never been to school, never seen the world outside of his mother’s eyes, and only knew the men she had had children with.
So yes, a child like that going to the only adult he knows is an attempt to have them take a responsibility he doesn’t want.
Sequence of events:
Mother leaves. He eventually realized she isn’t coming back. Goes to only other adults he knows. They do nothing. Goes to park and meets other children. They hang out in his apartment at all hours playing video games. He ignores the wants and needs of his siblings. Is struck with the realization of responsibility. Is rewarded with help from a girl he obviously has affection for. An accident occurs and the tragedy suggested is that even in the heroism one achieves by overcoming extreme neglect, life still takes from you.
The loss isn’t one of a family being torn (didn’t that happen when the mother left them?), but of a hero losing despite overcoming all obstacles.
The problem with this in relation to the real event is that the film ignores the complexity of human action and emotion for the simplicity of a more melodramatic, acceptable narrative.
What was that one quote about The Social Network by people who had actually been involved in the events? Something like, “Wow, that’s a really good movie! The makers were quite creative, we didn’t even know such dramatic and crazy things happened when we did it!”
Or something like that.
Yeah Rose was very biased and disrespectful in that interview. It’s funny that you posted a Michael Mann interview since I was about to post a quote from Mann myself (paraphrasing David Ray) : “We can learn things from drama about the human experience in a much more profound way, because it’s so dimensional, it’s about our feelings, it’s about all the multi-layered, multi-faceted ways in which we are, then we ever can from a facts report or from news.”
Yes, he was attempting to be a hero the only way he knew how, and the tragedy is that all the people around him who saw what was going on and looked the other way didn’t intervene at all.
Because those real events are what inspired you? I find this sort of thing far less devious than “The Impostor”, how they basically let a known pathological liar dictate the narrative and left with the impression that the family got away with murder.
“But books, even purportedly factual history books, distort real events all the time. Why? Because even the most “objective” accounts are told from a particular perspective”
But there is a huge difference, at least in my mind, between presenting some dull sequence of events in order to portray a conflict, like a generic Hollywood pic, or doing something along the lines of Sokurov, for example, that attempts to be a little more impressionistic and perhaps aim at something essential, while also being somewhat ambiguous.
To me it depends on the aim and the motive.
POLARIS: Yeah but it’s not like those guys are going to admit to being the assholes they are portrayed as being though, are they?
Anyone recall the opening claim in Fargo?
“THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
And according to the Coens:
“We weren’t interested in that kind of fidelity. The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined…If an audience believes that something’s based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept.”
Fascinating, and he’s right.
JFK is a giant steaming piece of homophobic garbage. I wrote about its lies extensively for “The Advocate” when it was first released. As a result “American Grotesque,” James Kirkwood’s definitive study of Jim Garrison and the Clay Shaw trial, written in 1967, was republished. Read it.