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You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy 
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Post You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Let me, as usual, begin by qualifying the bold statement that I used as this thread's title. I'll admit it was a brazen act of hyperbole designed to get you in here, but in these dark days of forum apathy, a fella's gotta do what a fella's gotta do.

So in any case, there are obviously situations in which a film's historical accuracy (or lack thereof) matters. If, for instance, a movie came out which postulated that the Jews killed six million Nazis in the Holocaust, that would matter. I'm not saying you can just do what you like with the past.

However, as long as your movie stays reasonably true to the spirit of history, I think you can pretty much do what you like. Who cares if the Romans didn't really use heavy cavalry like Gladiator depicts? I used to, but then it occurred to me that it really, really didn't matter. The movie is still a decent action film regardless. Who cares if several characters in Zulu are re-imagined? The general sense of the battle is still accurate, and the character development makes the movie better.

I admit that this is complicated by movies which trumpet the fact that they were based/inspired on a true story. After all, it's a little irritating that they want the cachet that comes with history but then want to claim that they have no obligation to follow the facts. However, a film's advertising is only tangentially -- if at all -- related to the actual quality of the film. And I think historical accuracy is overrated.

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Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:15 pm
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
I will say that historical accuracy is not necessarily... necessary. But in cases when it doesn't intrude upon the film's dramatic capabilities, historical accuracy is strongly desirable. There is no need to make careless mistakes... unless there is a need for it.

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Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:15 pm
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Well I really need to think a little deeper about this, but in general I think that the rule is: the overall truth (or the one currently agreed upon) should be left intact if it is a movie based on historcal facts. The details however can (and in many cases should) be changed and bent for dramatic purposes. We are not talking a diary or a documentary or an imaginary time machine - but a movie. I also think the more knowledge is around and (at the time the movie is made) talked about any historical event, the more accurate the movie should be (or at least work its way cleverly around it).


Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:16 pm
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
I agree, historical inaccuracy isn't a huge issue for me either. But I am surprised that you actually like Gladiator though, I thought you of all people would've hated that film.


Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:34 am
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
I'd pretty much agree with Kunz, and submit JFK as exhibit A.

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Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:16 am
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Vexer wrote:
I agree, historical inaccuracy isn't a huge issue for me either. But I am surprised that you actually like Gladiator though, I thought you of all people would've hated that film.


I went through a period of hating Gladiator, mainly for historical accuracy reasons, and while I still feel that Traffic should have won BP, it's a decent *** movie

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Wed Apr 18, 2012 6:27 am
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
The importance of historical accuracy depends on the movie’s approach to the historical event concerned. If a movie tries to make a specific statement about an event, perhaps even a political statement, it should better be accurate or otherwise risks losing credibility. If the movie just uses historical events as a backdrop for entertainment, historical accuracy is of less importance.

JamesKunz wrote:
So in any case, there are obviously situations in which a film's historical accuracy (or lack thereof) matters. If, for instance, a movie came out which postulated that the Jews killed six million Nazis in the Holocaust, that would matter. I'm not saying you can just do what you like with the past.


I’m wondering whether you think that it matters that a bunch of badass Jewish commandos kill Hitler before D-day in “Inglourious Basterds”.

Sexual Chocolate wrote:
I'd pretty much agree with Kunz, and submit JFK as exhibit A.


I always regarded ‘JFK’ as an amalgamation of various conspiracy theories concerning the Kennedy assassination. Did Oliver Stone regard it as historically accurate? I kind of remember that he said he wanted to contrast the Warren report with ‘”counterfiction”.


Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:37 am
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
When we have people who are gullible enough to believe that Appollo 18 was real (as relayed on a local radio show about some dude's girlfriend), historical accuracy will always be a touchy subject for me. As long as people aren't relying on movies as their sole source of history, then it's fine. But if the majority come out of The Patriot and now think they know everything about the Revolutionary War, then we got problems.

As has been mentioned in another thread, what about inaccuracies that boil down to character assasination? Max Baer Jr. was quite upset about the portrayal of his father in Cinderella Man all in the name of dramatic license.


Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:56 am
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Unke wrote:
I’m wondering whether you think that it matters that a bunch of badass Jewish commandos kill Hitler before D-day in “Inglourious Basterds”.


I won't speak for Kunzie, but for me, both that film as while as a hypothetical film about Jews killings 6 million Germans would not fall under the category of "historical film" in the sense being brought up here.

I don't think it's a matter or moral correctness, it's a matter of how the film presents itself.

JamesKunz wrote:
However, as long as your movie stays reasonably true to the spirit of history, I think you can pretty much do what you like.


Agreed. Very much. I can't remember how much you liked the film (I actually enjoyed it quite a bit despite my reservations), but we both had the same problem with Moneyball. Yeah, it's a neat story. And I don't feel it's inaccurate, scene-for-scene, in most of what it portrays. But to completely gloss over the presence of Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez on that team (the former was the AL MVP that year, the latter was a great player whose stats went against everything Moneyball stood for) simply because it didn't fit into the underdog narrative damages the integrity of the film. Watching it with no other knowledge of the team, you'd almost think Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford led the way. It didn't need to be the focus of the film because the principles in a lot of the roster was truly innovative, but by ignoring it I feel like they run from staying true to the spirit of what really happened with that team.

johnny larue wrote:
As has been mentioned in another thread, what about inaccuracies that boil down to character assasination? Max Baer Jr. was quite upset about the portrayal of his father in Cinderella Man all in the name of dramatic license.


Honestly, I think Baer Jr. needs to face reality. His father did kill Frankie Campbell with a cheap shot, and he absolutely, by all accounts, didn't take Braddock seriously in preparation or during that fight and pranced around making a mockery of the fight. Yes, I believe Baer Jr's account that his father felt bad, but he didn't feel bad enough to stop fighting after he'd killed two guys.


Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:28 pm
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
What I dislike is inaccuracy (historical, scientific, or whatever) that is simply the result of the writers being lazy in their research/fact-checking. That's not dramatic license. It's simply the faith that the audience is just as ignorant of the subject and probably won't notice all the careless departures from reality.


Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:33 pm
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Movie making is about details. There is a reason they hire consultants to train actors and help ensure authenticity. IMO set dressing is no different. I watch movies to be bathed in the world the filmaker has created. In a period piece, they didn't create that world; instead they are trying to replicate one that existed previously. If I'm watching "Bonnie and Clyde" and a Datsun rolls by, I'm distracted, unsettled.
Ed Wood believed that audiences were looking at the big picture, that details didn't matter. His movies are laughed at.
Hell, James Cameron 'corrected' the stars seen in the sky for the latest "Titanic".
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/titani ... d=16065151

Love him or hate him, he understands the quest for detail and accuracy and spent money that (according to some) added no value to the product.


Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:53 pm
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Awf Hand wrote:
Movie making is about details. There is a reason they hire consultants to train actors and help ensure authenticity. IMO set dressing is no different. I watch movies to be bathed in the world the filmaker has created. In a period piece, they didn't create that world; instead they are trying to replicate one that existed previously. If I'm watching "Bonnie and Clyde" and a Datsun rolls by, I'm distracted, unsettled.
Ed Wood believed that audiences were looking at the big picture, that details didn't matter. His movies are laughed at.
Hell, James Cameron 'corrected' the stars seen in the sky for the latest "Titanic".
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/titani ... d=16065151

Love him or hate him, he understands the quest for detail and accuracy and spent money that (according to some) added no value to the product.


But what about the bigger picture? You bring up Bonnie and Clyde, an inaccurate movie. That doesn't bother me at all. Does it bother you?

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Wed Apr 18, 2012 7:27 pm
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
If it's something that can easily be weeded out before the film goes to print, then why leave it in? It might not bother everybody, but why have a whole battalion of ninjas attack a village when the same story function can be accomplished with just one? Many people probably aren't aware that ninjas didn't attack in battalions, but some are. Those people are going to be thoroughly ejected from the movie.


Thu Apr 19, 2012 12:06 am
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
I reread the OP and I think I failed to answer the right question. If I read correctly (this time), the question was about historical accuracy in terms of storyline. I had mistook it to be referring to period detail. "Bonnie and Clyde" was an excellent example of this. What happened in the movie isn't what happened in reality. The writers took liberties to make a compelling story as opposed to a live-action documentary.
I can certainly see your point on this. "The Ghost and the Darkness" was another screenplay that was based on "The Maneaters of Tsavo". It deviated from the book in some huge key elements, but was still enjoyable.
I don't know if anyone here has seen "Gods and Generals"..? That was a movie that strove for historical accuracy in ALL elements and certainly drew in people who don't normally go to movies. I'm a Civil War buff and I couldn't finish it.
So, for writing or storyline historical accuracy, I can certainly see your point. I still like my period detail however.


Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:00 am
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Regarding period detail: I think a lot is still (and should) being "translated" into something current audiences can relate to. Just imagine how filthy the world was (and most human beings - along with all sorts of ailments) up until, say, the early to mid 20th Century. Some movies kind of address this (like some modern westerns), but even the greasiest guy with the filthiest teeth still looks like a very healthy actor with makeup and prosthetics - because it is. I don't even want to know how people really looked like up to a certain point. I'm not just talking ordinary folks. If someone had a chance to travel back in time to really see it, I guess they would be traumatized.
Now how about the ever changing language(s), dialects and accents? People talked very differently a hundred years ago. Further into the past we would not understand one single word, and researchers have no audio recordings to check.
It will always be a romanticized, sanitized and dramatized version of the past. This goes well into the 1950s. I have yet to see any movie depicting the US during the 1950s as anything else than a Norman Rockwell painting with all cars brand new and shiny. Even the steam locomitives always look like carefully restored museum pieces (because they are). In reality they became filthy and grimy very fast - just google for some photos of the real deal.

I could go on forever....


Thu Apr 19, 2012 12:35 pm
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
Threeperf35 wrote:
Regarding period detail: I think a lot is still (and should) being "translated" into something current audiences can relate to. Just imagine how filthy the world was (and most human beings - along with all sorts of ailments) up until, say, the early to mid 20th Century. Some movies kind of address this (like some modern westerns), but even the greasiest guy with the filthiest teeth still looks like a very healthy actor with makeup and prosthetics - because it is. I don't even want to know how people really looked like up to a certain point. I'm not just talking ordinary folks. If someone had a chance to travel back in time to really see it, I guess they would be traumatized.
Now how about the ever changing language(s), dialects and accents? People talked very differently a hundred years ago. Further into the past we would not understand one single word, and researchers have no audio recordings to check.
It will always be a romanticized, sanitized and dramatized version of the past. This goes well into the 1950s. I have yet to see any movie depicting the US during the 1950s as anything else than a Norman Rockwell painting with all cars brand new and shiny. Even the steam locomitives always look like carefully restored museum pieces (because they are). In reality they became filthy and grimy very fast - just google for some photos of the real deal.

I could go on forever....


Isn't is ironic that most films that claim to be historically accurate are usually of the mark. Yet there is the odd film that couldn't care less about historical accuracy, but yet manage to achieve it. A good example of this is "the Life of Brian". All the serious Jesus films that were up to that point were badly conceived ideas of what life was like in Jerusalem, whereas LOb turned to be more realistic.
I believe that the main purpose of a film is to entertain me. As long as it manages that then I could not care less about the historical accuracy of the film.
People who base their views and opinions about history on films need to have their heads examined. If you want to find out something about a historical event look up in a book.


Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:03 pm
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
That's one of the reasons I like Life of Brian so much. I appreciated a lot of things Terry Gilliam got right in Jabberwocky, too.

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Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:16 pm
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
There was a livejournal blog I used to follow (still do but it's rather defunct now) called history spork.

http://history-spork.livejournal.com/

It basically did what it sounds like, a bunch of history professors would watch history orientated films and poke fun of the historical accuracy (or rather the lack thereof). There was some rather hysterical sporkings of films like Gladiator and some that totally missed the mark - primarily as when they choose films like 300 or the animated version of Anastasia. You know, films that didn't take themselves too seriously or in the case of 300 are obvious bastardizations of history. The best sporking was probably the Sound of Music.

Which by the way, I think raises some interesting questions about historical accuracy. I mean, isn't it rather unethical to present the Nazi's as unethical bafoons because such a depiction rather insulting to the people who had to actually endure Nazi persecution.

You can read that sporking here:
http://history-spork.livejournal.com/4093.html

Because history spork used humour to make their point, I generally thought they raised some interesting points and ultimately, I learned from them *never* to take historical films seriously. Not that I did anyways, but I always thought there was more truth than fiction in at least some films... never again will I believe that!

Furthermore, what of cases of people who may have been generally good (or complex) but are presented as hideous villians because the filmmakers decided that would be more dramatically potent? I'm thinking specifically of Cinderalla Man but I am sure there are other cases. Rarely does history provide the simplified black and white, heroes and villians that sell movie tickets. What about the whitewashing of the protagonists in certain biopics? What if someone were to do a biopic of Roman Polanski and left out the fact that he was technically convicted of statutory rape? Would that not be a disempowering insult to his victim?

Ultimately, I think historical accuracy should not be the end all be all of a film, but certainly there are cases where it should matter.


Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:54 pm
Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
There is also one more point I that I wanted to raise as well but forgot, namely the straightening out of queer characters, or more relevant to this post, historical figures and societies.

Take 300, I generally don't mind the historical innaccuracies of *but* it specifically mentions that the Athenians were boy lovers, and totally ignores that the Spartans were pretty much just as big on pederasty as those in Athens. What I think really bothers me is not that it's merely historically inaccurate but has all kinds of underlying homophobia present in that at well.

Probably the worse example I can think of though is Enigma, (which I should admit I have not seen) and I know is not precisely based on the life of Alan Turing but having a completely fictional straight character invent the Enigma machine during World War II is one of the most frustrating examples of Hollywood going to great lengths to cover up the historical contributions of LGBTQ people. Especially, given the ultimate tragedy that befell Turing, along with his immense contributions to computer science and code breaking.

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Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:07 pm
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Post Re: You know what doesn't matter? A film's historical accuracy
The estate of War Admiral should object to his portrayal as some sort of huge freak in Seabiscuit. War Admiral and Seabiscuit were actually about the same height, and rather short for racehorses at about 15.3 hands (16 is average). War Admiral was just about a perfect build for a racehorse; Seabiscuit was the one who was built funny.

One alteration the movie made was to eliminate Charles Howard's other three children so his son's death would be more powerful. This caused a bit of a historical problem since Howard's second wife was the sister of the wife of another of his sons, so they had to fabricate another way for them to meet. I don't think either change hurt the movie particularly.

Although it isn't mentioned in the movie, War Admiral was Seabiscuit's uncle. Seabiscuit was a year older.

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Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:31 pm
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