I watched ‘U-571’ (2000) (which is terrible may i add) which depicted American rather than British naval officers capturing the first Enigma machine. I feel cheated, im English and take great pride of the achivements we achived in the war, but this is just bad. I know most American war movies alter history, and soon they will claim that they won the war by themselves. But i also noticed that alot of films do this, ‘The Great Escape’ (1963) is the same, there went no Americans in that camp only after the escape were Americans put in there. ‘Braveheart’ (1995) is another historically in-correct film, for example; Wallace was not the poor villager the film depicts, but a landowner and minor knight. The litany of fibs extends from Wallace’s love interest (Queen Isabella would have been about two-years-old at the time) to his kilt – a garment not developed for another three centuries.
So my question is this: is there any films which are historically correct?
p.s: sorry to any Americans who feel offended. im just trying to make a point. about historically incorrect films, and your country is worst for making those types of film, sorry once again.
Well, considering that there are constant battles over how history is written, I think you’re going to be disappointed if you’e looking for a film that is 100% historically accurate. Some films are more egregious than others in their use of dramatic license, almost to the point of absurdity, but I think it’s a little presumptuous of you to say that “your country is worst [sic] for making those types of film.” Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai are two “historical epics” rife with inaccuracies.
Although Michael Collins got quite a lot wrong (particularly with the football match massacre, Stephan Rea’s Ned Broy character and the way it insinuates deValera’s direct involvement with Collins’s assassination), it did manage to be a largely right historical portrait.
Also I don’t know if Schindler’s List can be faulted…
History always comes from a subjective viewpoint but that doesn’t mean it is OK to alter facts. I don’t think I would argue that US commercial cinema is particularly more prone to distort history. I would however say that because of the economic powerhouse behind the distribution of US films these inaccuracies become much more dangerous. I would fault critical discourse for tolerating these kinds of inaccuracies. One of the worst cases of this is the film Black Robe which distorts history in a way that has extremely problematic racial and colonial implications. This happens a great deal with depictions of indigenous cultures. Filmmakers know that they can get away with just making shit up and they do this all the time. They know that most people are not very well educated about the history and culture of indigenous people so they feel that their creativity should take free reign. This often mars films that could have been really great. I think a great example of this is Apocalypse Now where Coppola has the “natives” performing rituals that they would never perform. Actually some of these are rituals from the Philippines that he just grafts onto a different cultural context because he can get away with it. It doesn’t bother to treat Southeast Asian cultures with any respect. He wouldn’t have been able to get away with that in another context (ie. He couldn’t just have a film set in Norway and have people engage in a common Italian cultural tradition and have people believe that this is OK).
My point here is that the representation of history is a form of political power. That is why it is crucial that people like you raise objections to films like U-571. The louder these objections become the more accurate filmmakers will feel they need to be to have their work accepted.
Excellent post, Craig. I might only add that Coppola’s task of being “historically correct” in Apocalypse Now was of course further complicated by the cultural assumptions of the work he (along with co-writers John Milius and Michael Herr) was adapting, so not only do you have the filmmakers’ 20th century American assumptions about Vietnam and the Philippines, you also have the underlying assumptions about the Congo Free State, which are essentially those of a 19th century British writer.
I think there are films that go to great pains to be historically accurate, hiring historians and societies to see if the details match how it was Gettysburg and Gods and Generals come to mind
If there is a film out there that is 100% historically accurate, I’m betting that it ain’t all that great; there is tradeoff between historical veracity and entertainment value/popularity. Who wants to cheer a rich and pompous William Wallace? (God, I hate that film enough as it is.) There are enough topics dealing with this kind of tradeoff, but I must say to the person who said that Schindler’s List can’t be faulted for historical accuracy – yes it can (the Holocaust was only entertaining to Nazis).
History, like cinema, is never 100% accurate. It’s almost completely impossible to recreate history the same way it is almost completely impossible to recreate memories and experiences.
“I think a great example of this is Apocalypse Now where Coppola has the “natives” performing rituals that they would never perform.”
I thought the whole point of the last portion of that film was that the group had established its own
catch-as-catch-can set of cultural norms and mores.
Under Kurtz’s direction, everyone involved, irrespective of their racial or cultural origins,
was engaged in a kind of Lord of the Flies scenario.
An entry in Elenor Coppola’s journal:
“In the script, Kurtz’s band of renegade soldiers has trained a tribe of local
Montagnard Indians to be a fighting team. Rather than dress up Filipino
extras every day, Francis asked Eva, a production assistant, to go to a northern
province where the rice terraces are and recruit a real tribe of primitive people
to come live on the set and be in the scenes.”
So, the Ifugao, a people from the southern part of the Cordillera of the Northern Philippines (someone feel free to correct me if I get any of this wrong) portrayed Kurtz’s followers, which the screenplay identified as the Dega (“Montagnard”). The animal sacrifice is not an invention—and to me, even if you’re unfamiliar with the cultural specifics, it clear it’s the kind of thing a small band of people would create on the fly—it’s an Ifugao ritual (albeit one completely detached from its actual meaning), and nothing like the Dega (many of whom were Christian due to efforts of French Roman Catholic missionaries in 19th century and American Protestant missionaries in the 1930s. By the way, many Dega did actually fight alongside American forces in Vietnam.
Under Kurtz’s direction, everyone involved, irrespective of their racial or cultural origins—-
I think it is clearly a mistake to try to understand either Heart of Darkness or Lord of Flies as anything other than the darker aspects of specifically Western colonial and post-colonial civilization gone unchecked. In Apocalypse, it’s clear that it’s almost entirely Dega under Kurtz’s “commmand,” with Dennis Hopper’s character and perhaps a few others on the periphery. Had the film wished to convey otherwise, it certainly could have made the group much more apparently motley. Willard does say in his voiceover that `the place was full with bodies: North Vietnamese, Viet Cong Cambodians," but I’m fairly certainly he is referring to the dead ones, not the live ones.
>>I think there are films that go to great pains to be historically accurate, hiring historians and societies to see if the details match how it was Gettysburg and Gods and Generals come to mind<<
And two more boring films I’m hard-pressed to think of.
>>If there is a film out there that is 100% historically accurate, I’m betting that it ain’t all that great; there is tradeoff between historical veracity and entertainment value/popularity.<<
Precisely. Acuurate history makes for lousy drama (see corollary: God writes lousy plots).
wow harry I find those films exciting
Historically correct films only bother me when they claim to be 100% truth.
>>wow harry I find those films exciting<<
its okay just in my ego I assumed everyone else did too ):
I suppose not ever likes Bud Spencer of Godzilla either
Love Bud Spencer.
And I’m building a like for kaiju (though not Godzilla in particular – at least not beyond the first two).
How are you on Mexican horror films of the late 1950s & early 60s?
I’m sort of a historian, and we know all too well that History itself is never 100% correct or filled out, no matter how much is known about any given subject, so of course a film can never be “correct” in any literal sense. Any film that presupposes to be “correct” and “the whole truth” or any such nonsense is going to be hopelessly pretentious, and probably also very boring.
Having said that, there are certainly films that are more correct than others, or more “true” than others, however they go about that establishing their truth. Realism and authenticity of look are obviously highly valued, but in and of themselves do not guarantee a more accurate picture of history. Since APOCALYPSE NOW is being discussed here, I might as well express my opinion, that while that film is certainly a less authentic depiction of 20th Century warfare in its surface details than films like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or PLATOON, etc; I find it to be closer in some kind of truthful depiction of how warfare is frequently actually experienced, through its hallucinatory and surreal atmosphere (THE THIN RED LINE might be another good example, and FULL METAL JACKET to some extent). Those other films may be more “realistic” on the surface, but they give in to so much standard-issue sentimentality and melodrama, which rings false to anybody really interested in getting at the the truthfulness of history. There’s probably better examples, I’m just thinking of some of the better known Hollywood war films.
I don’t know if I’m making much sense, its hard to open that subject up without writing a whole essay, which I have no desire to do.
there is a french film titled the night of veraness thats quite accurate
it is about the french revolution and its aftermath
R T is right. Being “truthful” and being “historically accurate” are…if not exactly opposed, then somewhat conflicted. The truth is something we know when we see it; Tokyo Story gets to the heart of the family and yet is fictional and not based on anything from the history books; there is a certain truth in The Thin Red Line that, in my opinion, is not dependent on its historical narrative. Leave historical accuracy to the writers of history (and the less adjectives the better). Striving for the same kind of factual narrative in cinema leads to exceedingly flat results most of the time.
Well, not all inaccurancies are created equal, sure—-I have a friend who is forever complaining about the inaccuracies of weapons used in battle scenes, etc. And, yeah, absolute truth, were there such a thing, would be unknowable, but that’s certainly no excuse for abandoning accuracy altogether. There’s a certain obligation to representing people . . . otherwise you end up with The Birth of a Nation.
By the way, I think Atom Egoyan’s film Ararat is a excellent film about this very subject: