Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hollywood History?

What *is* the case for Hollywood history? 

I find the argument in the below comment hard to pin precisely down.

Francine Prose's sort of saying distortion doesn't matter; and she's sort of saying it does.

She says at one point, on having taken her eight year old granddaughter to see Selma, (itself a questionable choice):

...And though the violence made the film painful to sit through, to underplay what the activists—and ordinary people—had endured would have been much worse than misrepresenting the part played by Lyndon Johnson. Later, I thought, my granddaughter and I can deal with the film’s historical mistakes.

But then she says:

...As a member of a generation that, because of Johnson’s stand on Vietnam, underestimated or ignored his admirable record on domestic issues, I was sorry to see him cast as the villain of a story in which his actual involvement was much less obstructive..


....Were I a director, I would want to avoid the sort of errors and exaggerations that make reasonably knowledgeable audiences so dubious and uneasy about what they’re being shown that it ruins their pleasure in watching...

Prose earlier in her piece (seems to defend?) defends distortion in historical films in the interest of drama. But, while the distortion of LBJ in Selma didn't bother me, maybe it should've, there was no great dramatic heightening that I could see from the distortion of his involvement with King. There seems to me in that a general answer to the attempt at rendering the story in history. There seems to me no need seriously to sacrifice accuracy in the interest of drama. There ought be, well and creatively done, drama enough in the raw source of actuality.

I'd make two distinctions here: one, between an imaginative representation of a set of events or a person, where imaginative distortion is of the essence of the art, as against the effort to get the story right; and, two, in the latter, between some minor licence and embellishment--say writing King's speeches (because the actual speeches weren't made available by King's estate) as against outright distortion that materially falsifies a material event or events or a particular historical actor.  

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