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You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy 
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Post You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
In films, that is.

I love history (I majored in it and teach it, in fact) but the older I get, the more absurd I find the people who castigate movies for their historical inaccuracy. This is part of a broader development I've been making as a person (that sounds pretentious, but so be it) towards focusing less on whether something is "correct" and more on whether the perceived incorrectness actually causes harm. So that means that I don't give a shit about the word "ain't" because its meaning is perfectly clear and there's nothing wrong with it other than the fact that we're told it's bad.

The same goes for historical accuracy in movies, with the same principle. If the inaccuracy causes harm, then the movie deserves criticism. By way of example, Ken provided an article by Jim Emerson that harshly criticized Mississippi Burning. I've heard the criticisms before and they're valid -- the movie makes it appear that the FBI cared deeply about civil rights and downplays the role of black and white activists in favor of our heroic FBI men. That's a pernicious lie when one considers how vehemently anti-civil rights J. Edgar Hoover was.

But on the other hand, who gives a shit if Gladiator doesn't depict the Roman army well? Why do so many people care about Braveheart's flaws? Sure, they depict the Battle of Stirling Bridge as being fought on a flat plain. ...and that matters why? It used to bother me a lot, but movies are not history textbooks and they'd be boring if they were. Gettysburg strives for historical accuracy and is a pretty bland movie. Braveheart, though flawed, is a lot more fun.

I won't lie and say that if we're watching a movie together I'll ignore every anachronism, but overall I don't think it makes any sense to hold historical errors against movies. It ain't something I'm going to do anymore.

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Thu May 30, 2013 6:47 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
I concur for the most part, historical accuracy usually isn't something I put much stock in unless it's inaccurate in a dangerous way like you said.


Thu May 30, 2013 6:54 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Jimmy K. - Well I guess you are willing to open a can of worms plus Pandora's box at the same time.

First of all I think that what goes for historical accuracy goes for any kind of accuracy. The question is: does the movie need to be accurate or not? If the movie has some kind of "medieval fantasy" feel to it, like "Braveheart", I think it is more than O.K. to take some liberties. Another thing (just to get that out of the way) is the dialog: we don't know how people talked 200 years or more ago - it doesn't matter if an English warrior in the year 900 talks in a modern, watered down Cockney accent - language is about communication, audiences need to understand what's being said, this of course is part of some much-criticized anachronisms. Many movies that take place in the (more distant) past look too clean and people look too "contemporary", but audiences are living in the present and strong compromises regarding visuals have to be made. It is just a form of translation.
Problems always arise with inaccuracies when members in the audience really know about things from first hand experience. If you show a battle scene and someone actually was there, any tiny detail regarding equipment, strategy, time frame etc. will turn out to be annoying, especially when the film aims to feel real - as opposed to movies like "M.A.S.H" which is set during the Korea War, but it obviously is commenting on the Vietnam war. The same applies to "Kelly's Heroes" also made in 1970 (and also co-starring Donald Sutherland), this time a WWII action-comedy, again actually a dark sarcastic dramedy about the Vietnam war, so the tone is completely off for the movie's subject matter. Just two examples which come in mind.
IMDB points out many errors and anachronisms in movies, sometimes to the point of being ridiculous (that kind of autmatic handgun with black satin finish was only introduced three months later.... of course I'm exaggerating to make my point).

And of course it is important to get the geography right (since we are talking war battles) when the main details are still fresh in collective memory. It IS wrong that at the end of "The Green Berets" John Wayne sees the sunset, because VietNam has no west coast - and that is the least of its problems! The question remains: where to draw the line?

Quote (James Kunz): "If the inaccuracy causes harm, then the movie deserves criticism."

Agreed 100%. This should always be the very first thing to consider.


Thu May 30, 2013 8:04 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Sometimes it's necessary to leave out or combine characters to streamline the story, which can lead to some amusing consequences:

Seabiscuit is pretty accurate in the a lot of ways, but in the movie we only see one of Charles S. Howard's sons, namely the one who dies. This kid's death leads to the breakup of the marriage. We have the impression that this was their only kid, which is okay for streamlining the plot.

After the divorce, Howard meets cute his future second wife, Marcella Zabala at a Mexican race track. This is largely a fabrication which is necessary because Marcella was the sister of of the wife of one of the sons who isn't in the movie, namely Lindsay Howard, who raced horses in a partnership with Bing Crosby. This must have made for interesting family reunions.

I don't remember whether it's mentioned in the movie, but War Admiral was Seabiscuit's uncle. In reality, the two horses were about the same size, but Seabiscuit was heavier and built a bit oddly, while War Admiral looked just about perfect and matured younger.

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Thu May 30, 2013 8:35 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


Thu May 30, 2013 8:44 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


Can you please name the respective characters? I really don't know whom you are referring to. In "Titanic" the only villain was Cal (Billy Zane), a fiction character unless you are referring to Bruce Ismay or 1st Officer Murdoch?

To address the topic of inaccuracy causing harm: I think any kind of hateful and inaccurate propaganda (particularly in war movies) causes great harm.


Thu May 30, 2013 8:54 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


That's a good point Vexer. Take the recent movie Pain and Gain. You're some poor guy who was kidnapped and tortured by a group of gym rats, and then a movie comes along that makes your character an asshole who deserved what he got. That's got to really suck. That's harmful.

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Thu May 30, 2013 8:54 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
JamesKunz wrote:
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


That's a good point Vexer. Take the recent movie Pain and Gain. You're some poor guy who was kidnapped and tortured by a group of gym rats, and then a movie comes along that makes your character an asshole who deserved what he got. That's got to really suck. That's harmful.


I would have to disagree slightly. The victim in Pain & Gain is portrayed as an asshole, but I don't think the film truly takes the side of his tormentors. Everyone in that movie is an amoral asshole.

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Thu May 30, 2013 9:01 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
JamesKunz wrote:
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


That's a good point Vexer. Take the recent movie Pain and Gain. You're some poor guy who was kidnapped and tortured by a group of gym rats, and then a movie comes along that makes your character an asshole who deserved what he got. That's got to really suck. That's harmful.


Sorry, haven't seen the movie so I probably shouldn't post a reply. Anyway, since we talk about "historical" accuracy I suspect that your comment was meant to be sarcastic? I apologize if I'm wrong.


Thu May 30, 2013 9:25 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
My position on historical accuracy is the same as any other sort of technical accuracy: if you can help it, be accurate.

Get a grad student to go through your movie and look for mistakes. The worst that can happen (aside from having to bribe the grad student with a sandwich) is that some mistakes won't be feasible to fix. The best that can happen is that you can wipe out the mistakes that are feasible to fix. It makes your movie less sloppy, it shows more care, and it won't alienate the people in the audience who have expertise in that area. All other things being equal, it's better to create a seamless experience for as many people as possible.

If you're doing Titanic and the night sky is inaccurate, boom--you've just lost the astronomers in the audience. Maybe there's a good reason your sky couldn't be accurate, but there probably isn't. Maybe you can stand to lose the astronomers and still get a pretty decent net response, but why would you want that?

Sometimes all other things aren't equal--meaning there are a few reasons why you might deliberately keep inaccuracies in the movie. If you're doing comedy and you have to fudge some details to make it funnier, go for it. If Wanda and the gang want to work with a guy like Otto who's obviously too mentally unstable to be a reliable partner in crime, that's fine. If Daffy Duck gets shot in the face and his bill ends up on the wrong side of his head instead of a more realistic depiction, that's just fine. And if you can fudge some details to make a horror movie scarier, go for it. Likewise for other genres--as long as there is a positive balance between the quality of the experience and the necessary technical inaccuracies that make it that way, the movie is in the right for taking that liberty.

Superman's flight is a reactionless action--a direct contradiction of Sir Isaac Newton. Yet you'll probably never hear anybody in the physical sciences complain about it, because it's such a cool superpower. This maybe the best "rule of cool" liberty ever taken.

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Thu May 30, 2013 9:25 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Sexual Chocolate wrote:


I would have to disagree slightly. The victim in Pain & Gain is portrayed as an asshole, but I don't think the film truly takes the side of his tormentors. Everyone in that movie is an amoral asshole.


*I* agree with you, and it hurt my appreciation of the movie. But I think Bay and company are rooting for Marky Mark.


Threeperf35 wrote:
Sorry, haven't seen the movie so I probably shouldn't post a reply. Anyway, since we talk about "historical" accuracy I suspect that your comment was meant to be sarcastic? I apologize if I'm wrong.


No I think 20 year old crimes can count as "history" --I was not being sarcastic.

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Thu May 30, 2013 9:41 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Ken wrote:
My position on historical accuracy is the same as any other sort of technical accuracy: if you can help it, be accurate.

If you're doing Titanic and the night sky is inaccurate, boom--you've just lost the astronomers in the audience. Maybe there's a good reason your sky couldn't be accurate, but there probably isn't. Maybe you can stand to lose the astronomers and still get a pretty decent net response, but why would you want that?


But have you lost the astronomers in the audience? I don't really think so. Still and all, I agree that all things being equal it is best to be accurate, but rarely are all things equal in this sense. I know from a professor I had in college that Ridley Scott did indeed ask people to look over Gladiator for accuracy, heard their suggestions, and then ignored most of them. But who cares? I'm a history teacher and my wife's a Latin teacher and yet we both enjoy the movie well enough.

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Thu May 30, 2013 9:45 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Ken wrote:
If you're doing Titanic and the night sky is inaccurate, boom--you've just lost the astronomers in the audience. Maybe there's a good reason your sky couldn't be accurate, but there probably isn't. Maybe you can stand to lose the astronomers and still get a pretty decent net response, but why would you want that?


Screw the star field in "Titanic". The entire "King of the World" sequence with the virtual camera sweeping over the entire vessel is mirror-imaged, which is very bad because many details on the cluttered decks of Titanic were asymmetrical. There are definitely more kids having built reasonably accurate Titanic models than Astronomers who know exactly how the star field looked back in that night back on April 15th, 1912. Cameron basically kicked Titanic-Expert Ken Marschall in the butt by deciding to have that shot flipped over.
Cameron also violated the east-west rule: westbound means of transport should always travel from right to left. Can you imagine a US cross country trip from New York to L.A. with the car or train going from left to right????
I guess Cameron has chosen the left to right direction as a last minute decision: It is an old rule of photography (which I happened to study for quite a while): since in the western world most people write, read and therefore think and feel from left to right, this direction feels more dynamic. The star field in Titanic is ridiculous compared with many movies showing the moon in its familiar angle and pattern as seen from the northern hemisphere, even if the movie is located in Central Africa or South America. But yeah, familiarity.... That's why almost any image from planet Earth in Hollywood movies show the Florida panhandle.


Thu May 30, 2013 9:46 pm
Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
JamesKunz wrote:
No I think 20 year old crimes can count as "history" --I was not being sarcastic.


Sorry, my mistake.


Thu May 30, 2013 9:47 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
I'm of the opinion that it doesn't really matter. Unless a movie makes some great claim to be completely accurate I assume it has been enhanced. Some things do still get to me since, if I'm familiar with the history being recounted, I'm already biased in some way. For the most part, I don't watch a movie to reaffirm my knowledge of history. It is unfortunate that many will take the story as fact and make judgements on a person's character based upon a fictionalized account.


Thu May 30, 2013 9:56 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Threeperf35 wrote:
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


Can you please name the respective characters? I really don't know whom you are referring to. In "Titanic" the only villain was Cal (Billy Zane), a fiction character unless you are referring to Bruce Ismay or 1st Officer Murdoch?

To address the topic of inaccuracy causing harm: I think any kind of hateful and inaccurate propaganda (particularly in war movies) causes great harm.


In Cinderella Man, it was Max Baer.

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Thu May 30, 2013 10:13 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
JamesKunz wrote:
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


That's a good point Vexer. Take the recent movie Pain and Gain. You're some poor guy who was kidnapped and tortured by a group of gym rats, and then a movie comes along that makes your character an asshole who deserved what he got. That's got to really suck. That's harmful.

How did I know you were going to bring up Pain and Gain? Kershaw was not made out to be someone who "deserved" what he got, Lugo and his co-horts are not made out to be good people in the least despite what the misleading trailer suggets. they're portrayed as stupid and violent assholes like they were in real life. Kershaw does start out as a jerk but he eventually becomes considerably more sympathetic, so i'm not offended by the film like I am by the others, though I certainly don't blame families of the victims for getting offended by the film. If you actually believe Bay was rooting for Lugo, then I think you're misguided.

The person in Titanic I was talking about was William Murdoch, who was a hero in real life who did everything he could to save people's lives, he never shot anyone for trying to get to a lifeboat.
Max Baer in Cinderella Man is made out to be someone who brags about killing opponents in the ring, which was the polar opposite from how he was in real life, the real Max Baer never intended to kill anyone in the ring and was overcome with guilt after doing so.


Last edited by Vexer on Thu May 30, 2013 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Thu May 30, 2013 10:37 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
Vexer wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
Vexer wrote:
One example of inaccuracy I cannot easily overlook is when people are purposefully made out to be "evil" in historical films for the sake of having a villain, even if the person in real life was not remotely evil, which is the case with films Titanic and Cinderella Man, those types of inaccuracies are harmful to the families of the individuals portrayed.


That's a good point Vexer. Take the recent movie Pain and Gain. You're some poor guy who was kidnapped and tortured by a group of gym rats, and then a movie comes along that makes your character an asshole who deserved what he got. That's got to really suck. That's harmful.

How did I know you were going to bring up Pain and Gain? Kershaw was not made out to be someone who "deserved" what he got, Lugo and his co-horts are not made out to be good people in the least despite what the misleading trailer suggets. they're portrayed as stupid and violent assholes like they were in real life. Kershaw does start out as a jerk but he eventually becomes considerably more sympathetic, so i'm not offended by the film like I am by the others, though I certainly don't blame families of the victims for getting offended by the film. If you actually believe Bay was rooting for Lugo, then I think you're misguided.

Max Baer in Cinderella Man is different in that he's made out to be someone who brags about killing opponents in the ring, which was the polar opposite from how he was in real life, the real Max Baer never intended to kill anyone in the ring and was overcome with guilt after doing so.


I've never seen someone get so annoyed when agreed with. I did indeed see Pain and Gain and I think Kershaw was depicted as an absolute asshole. Lugo comes across as much more sympathetic.

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Thu May 30, 2013 10:41 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
JamesKunz wrote:
Ken wrote:
My position on historical accuracy is the same as any other sort of technical accuracy: if you can help it, be accurate.

If you're doing Titanic and the night sky is inaccurate, boom--you've just lost the astronomers in the audience. Maybe there's a good reason your sky couldn't be accurate, but there probably isn't. Maybe you can stand to lose the astronomers and still get a pretty decent net response, but why would you want that?


But have you lost the astronomers in the audience? I don't really think so.

In that moment, yes, you have. Maybe you'll get them back, but you've still lost them as soon as their mind is off Jack, Rose, and the ship, and on some distracting details that they are uniquely disposed to noticing.

I'm not an expert filmmaker, but getting the starfield right seems like one of the easier graphical rendering chores. Why let such a simple thing slide? If you're looking at a chair and you find that the joints aren't properly fitted and the finish is uneven, you'd rightly recognize that as shoddy craftsmanship. Yeah, you can probably still sit on it, but that's not the only thing we take into account when evaluating a chair.

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Thu May 30, 2013 10:48 pm
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Post Re: You know what really doesn't matter? Historical accuracy
You found Lugo sympathetic? Really? :shock: I never found him sympathetic in the slightest. I'm not annoyed, i'm just surprised that someone could actually see him that way.


Thu May 30, 2013 10:51 pm
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