Author Topic: When historical films don't reflect history  (Read 2698 times)

Santa's Boyfriend

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When historical films don't reflect history
« on: March 13, 2010, 10:36:20 PM »
Watched Kingdom of Heaven this evening.  Well in reality I switched off halfway through. It looks fantastic, but Orlando Bloom is fucking diabolical in it, and there's so much stuff in it that just doesn't work.

But anyway, looking on IMDB I came across this interesting bit of trivia:

Quote
In reality, Orlando Bloom's character Balian was not an illegitimate blacksmith, he did not fall in love with Sibylla but actually married her stepmother, he was hugely rich and was noted for his harsh attitude to the Muslims.

In one fell swoop, IMDB has undermined and destroyed the entire film!  I know it's impossible to write a historical story that's completely accurate, because there's no such thing as complete accuracy when it comes to being subjective (which all stories are).  But honestly...


Claude the Racecar Driving Rockstar Super Sleuth

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2010, 10:50:14 PM »
They changed certain aspects to reflect a wider realism.

Or some such bollocks.

biggytitbo

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2010, 10:59:01 PM »
U-571 is a classic one.

As is Charlie Wilson's war, a film made with the help of the CIA that deliberately tries to downplay the CIA's role in events. Tom Hanks is getting a taste for rewriting history though, he's making a film of propaganda epic 'Reclaiming History', no doubt with the help of his new chums in Langley.

Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2010, 12:10:41 AM »
I watched Braveheart the other day on Blu-Ray. It looked fantastic, and the battle scenes are still amazing and totally brutal, but it's about as close to reality as Star Wars.

Also, A Beautiful Mind. I really like the film, but all the stuff about him seeing things is bollocks, all of John Nash's hallucinations were aural. Still, I guess it worked better visually to have him conversing with imaginary characters.

Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2010, 01:06:13 AM »
Any horror film that has the words 'based on' or 'inspired by' true events on the poster/DVD cover/ad voice-over.

Johnny Textface

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2010, 01:20:39 AM »
Watched Kingdom of Heaven this evening.

You just reminded me, I watched this the other weekend and jesus what a load of shit - although I did watch until the end (was quite pissed by then and couldn't be bothered moving.) I was just having a nice Ridley Scott revisit too, did Bladerunner final cut, Alien, Legend, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven.. thats it now, no more Riddles..

Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2010, 01:32:17 AM »
Speaking of Ridley Scott films that probably aren't historically accurate:

'Robin Hood' Trailer HD

Nik Drou

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2010, 01:36:25 AM »
I was thinking of this the other day while discussing the Bible with someone online.  I tried to make the point that imposing or reading a literal interpretation on a story doesn't improve it, so the Bible isn't any more or less enriched by how historically correct it happens to be.  I ended up having to backtrack on this, after being pointed to how including legitimate facts can make a story more interesting, as well as how redundant a Hollywood movie can feel if it gets those facts wrong. 

A kind of weird opposite to this is Troy, which managed to take a fictional story and treat it as historical, stripping all the mythology and therefore getting it wrong on both counts.

Danger Man

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2010, 09:25:50 AM »
U-571 is a classic one.

As is 'JFK' (runs away screaming....)

'The Patriot' has to take first prize, though. 

Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2010, 10:28:08 AM »
To turn this around a little, if you come across Saving Private Ryan criticism online, it's frequently about it not having any British people in it. There are plenty of things wrong with Saving Private Ryan historically but there's really little reason to why any British people would be in the region the film is set. The film's not attempting to sum up the whole Overlord operation, after all.

biggytitbo

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2010, 10:42:32 AM »
As is 'JFK' (runs away screaming....)

'The Patriot' has to take first prize, though.

Save for the usual composite characters and scenes and stuff they couldn't have known in 1991, JFK isn't too bad for what is an almost impossibly tangled and complex story.

Anything starring Mel Gibson in an historical context is usually horseshit. But that's Mel Gibson, we all know what kind of a fella he is.

Santa's Boyfriend

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2010, 11:52:31 AM »
Apocalypto is very good.  But yeah, Braveheart is shockingly inaccurate.  I wouldn't mind so much if it didn't present itself as history.  (Although Mad Mel himself has always defended its inaccuracies by saying "hey, it's only a movie!" which will of course be my defense when I do my "Mel Gibson - Child Rapist" movie.)

When I've written stuff based on history, I realised that it's very, very fucking difficult to actually be accurate.  Even if you're talking to people who were present, you're always going to miss perspectives and so on.  If you only have history books, you pretty much have to find your own interpretation of what the books tell you.  It's something I find quite difficult as I know whatever I come up with will be inaccurate in some way, and someone somewhere will tear it apart!


Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2010, 12:12:44 PM »
Alex Cox's Walker took the novel approach of being upfront about its historical inaccuracies by including blatant anachronisms like helicopters, copies of Newsweek and Time etc. in the film. This also served to underline the parallels between William Walker's Nicaragua adventures and those of the Reagan administration (also nicely evoked in its classic tagline "Before Rambo, Before Oliver North"). Though a nice idea, it isn't really executed very well; the blatant anachronisms don't start until about an hour into the film so the intended escalating absurdity doesn't really come off, and sometimes too little is done with them; for example Peter Boyle's character is given a personal computer, but unless I missed something it's only really visible in the corner of one shot. Indeed the film as a whole, while not the debacle critics claimed, is something of a missed opportunity.

Jemble Fred

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2010, 12:17:50 PM »
A kind of weird opposite to this is Troy, which managed to take a fictional story and treat it as historical, stripping all the mythology and therefore getting it wrong on both counts.

Ooh, Michael Wood might have something to say about that! Surely whether you decide that the basic natural plot points of the story are fictional or historical, both views are equally based on assumption? The archaeological record arguably back up the general shape of the story after all.

But then I've never had any faith in the creative abilities of the ancients, so I take the leap of faith that all legends are historical events after a lengthy period of chinese whispers. Troy included.

Sadly, I have this feeling in my bones that I will write historical fiction one day, and there's little I can do to stop myself. I have a cracking Casanova story brewing in my mind. Reading about George IV's hilarious life, it also struck me that there was a story that hadn't been told to its full entertainment capability as yet...

An tSaoi

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #15 on: March 14, 2010, 01:18:13 PM »
11 Films Saved By Historical Inaccuracy

It makes the case for the inaccuracies of some films actually improving them, making them more interesting or entertaining than the history they represent. Who would want to see a fat Braveheart wearing a saffron shirt instead of the anachronistic yet iconic kilt, or for Russel Crowe's Gladiator to be called 'Narcissus the Good'?

Jemble Fred

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #16 on: March 14, 2010, 01:58:43 PM »
11 Films Saved By Historical Inaccuracy

Made I laugh.
Quote
Although Mayans did occasionally engage in ritual human sacrifice, they were a far more civilized and complex culture than shown in the film. In fact, the Mayan sun god Kukulkan, to whom the sacrifice is made in the movie, never asked for and was never given such a sacrifice, so whatever priest was offering Kukulkan a human heart was probably just creeping him the fuck out.

biggytitbo

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #17 on: March 14, 2010, 02:22:32 PM »
The worst one is Jesus. They're always make films about him as if he existed but there is no evidence the geezer ever did!

Santa's Boyfriend

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #18 on: March 14, 2010, 04:51:32 PM »
Or the holocaust in Schindler's List.  Is there ANY evidence that happened?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?11/11111/

[spoiler]Answer: yes.  Quite a lot, really.[/spoiler]

kittens

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #19 on: March 14, 2010, 05:54:46 PM »
I really don't think it matters if a film is historically accurate or not. As long as it's an entertaining film, it's good. People aren't watching them to learn history, you got books and shit for that.

biggytitbo

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #20 on: March 14, 2010, 06:17:15 PM »
I really don't think it matters if a film is historically accurate or not. As long as it's an entertaining film, it's good. People aren't watching them to learn history, you got books and shit for that.

It very much depends what it is. Like it or not, Hollywood films can and do actually influence what people think about historical events. If they're blatantly rewriting history, especially more recent history, then that can be quite damaging to the public's understanding of events.

Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #21 on: March 14, 2010, 07:07:45 PM »
Alex Cox's Walker

I remember seeing that and thinking it was the worst film ever made. It certainly stopped me taking his BBC2 movie recommendations seriously.

Claude the Racecar Driving Rockstar Super Sleuth

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #22 on: March 14, 2010, 07:09:25 PM »
I really don't think it matters if a film is historically accurate or not. As long as it's an entertaining film, it's good. People aren't watching them to learn history, you got books and shit for that.
I thought similar when I saw that U-571, but then I visited Bletchley Park and now I think the makers of that film ought to be ashamed of themselves.

On the other hand, Conrad Hilton was a never actually a client of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency, but that doesn't affect my enjoyment of the current series of Mad Men. Maybe I'm hypocritical, or maybe it only matters if people laid their lives down or something.

Nik Drou

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #23 on: March 14, 2010, 09:22:45 PM »
Ooh, Michael Wood might have something to say about that! Surely whether you decide that the basic natural plot points of the story are fictional or historical, both views are equally based on assumption? The archaeological record arguably back up the general shape of the story after all.

Even if you accept there definitely WAS a Troy and there WAS a war between it and the Greeks, there is still no evidence, or indeed reason, to think the characters of Helen, Paris, Achilles, Hector, and various Greek deities actually existed.  It's pretty much like saying that Inglourious Bastards isn't fictional because there actually was a World War 2.  The movie 'Troy' seemed intent to hoodwink the audience into thinking it's a historical epic by removing all the supernatural elements and adding a few hacky subplots (Achilles' cousin, Achilles' slave girl who conveniently falls in love with him) to grease the wheels.

On the subject of Jesus, despite the lack of direct evidence, it seems more likely that there was a chap in Judea around 30AD with that name (sorry Biggy), rather than the likelihood that the Christian founders were completely pulling everything out of thin arse.  Doesn't mean he was God, or even that he did or said anything all that memorable so, as far as I'm concerned, the historical Jesus isn't that important.  I'd like to see a proper, literal film adaptation of the Gospels, with Jesus killing fig trees and being shirty to everyone.

Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #24 on: March 14, 2010, 09:37:14 PM »
Invictus? Despite the event that the film is based on happening only fifteen years ago, the film has no end of inaccuricies.

Jemble Fred

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #25 on: March 14, 2010, 09:41:06 PM »
It's pretty much like saying that Inglourious Bastards isn't fictional because there actually was a World War 2.

Sorry, but it is extremely different to that. You can't compare legends that have existed for millennia to a screenplay written a few years ago about relatively recent history.

Just as there is no proof that Paris and Helen existed, there is absolutely no reason to believe that they – or historical figures very like them – didn't. All we have to go on is the existing retelling, distorted by generations of embellishment. So you have to make a leap of faith on the subject of whether these stories were originally faithful reportage or not. I prefer to opt for the less boring option, that most legends do have a firm base in reality.

For all that, I have to concur that the movie 'Troy' was dull as shit.

biggytitbo

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #26 on: March 14, 2010, 10:21:18 PM »
I think for a film its fair game to take some liberties with the facts. You can't create a 2 hour commercial entertainment film out of an historical event without compressing and combining events and without creating composite characters. The problem comes not when every little detail isn't right but when you betray the substantive truth of the event. Most WW2 films are rubbish on the details but at least get the substantive facts right. JFK is an unusual example in that nobody agrees on either the details or the substantive facts - indeed Oliver Stone never claimed to be making a docudrama, he set out to make a counter-myth to the official myth. If nobody can agree on an event then any film is merely a speculative fiction anyway.

Bingo Fury

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #27 on: March 14, 2010, 10:38:01 PM »
I remember seeing that and thinking it was the worst film ever made. It certainly stopped me taking his BBC2 movie recommendations seriously.

What did it for me was when he prefaced one of his choices with "This is not a great film. But it has Warren Oates in it."

Santa's Boyfriend

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #28 on: March 14, 2010, 11:13:48 PM »
Apparently the surviving men from the event that The Great Escape was based on always booed when Steve McQueen appeared onscreen.

The guys that fought the battle for heavy water also hated the film Heroes of Telemark, said it was a load of bollocks from beginning to end.

Desi Rascal

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Re: When historical films don't reflect history
« Reply #29 on: March 14, 2010, 11:54:52 PM »
iirc the veterans of the Burma Star gave Bridge over the river kwai short shrift over the depiction of Alec Guinness' Character,whom was based upon author Pierre Boules recollection of his own interned French Collaborator officers, rather than the actual British Co on the Burma Railway.


 Stretching it out a bit into literature how about the bun fight between Andy Mcnab (bravo two zero)and Chris Ryan (the one that got away), when the two surviving participants of a historical event cannot agree on what actually happened between themselves, what chance has anyone else got?