Authenticity in Movies About Real-Life Events

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Sam R. Aucoin, Jun 2, 2002.

  1. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    I understand the "need" for film-makers to sometimes cut corners and combine events for the sake of time-constraints. But what I don't understand is how some movies are considered (often, by many on this forum - which is very surprising to me, given the penchant for OAR; if one were OAR, I would suspect one would also advocate "TTL" - "true to life" as much as possible) "good" or "excellent", despite the horrible retelling of history.

    I will use one event to illustrate my point: the gunfight at the OK Corral.

    First, I have never seen a movie that accurately depicts the interaction between the Earps, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton gang. Yet, at least four movies were made regarding this part of history (My Darling Clementine, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp, and Tombstone), and NONE of them completely accurately portrayed what is KNOWN to have occurred (although Wyatt Earp comes close).

    Based on my review of the threads on this forum that have discussed the two most recent movies based on the Earps and the Clanton gang (Wyatt Earp and Tombstone), the overwhelming favorite is Tombstone. Yet, consider how this movie "portrayed" actual history:

    1. Virgil and Morgan Earp were NOT shot on the same night. In fact, they were shot almost 3 months apart. Yet, the movie (for reasons unexplained) shows them being shot the same night (the movie Wyatt Earp even does this). Why is this? I see no need to have done this. One could have shown Virgil being shot, and then a cutaway with a small "explanation" or "header" on the top or bottom of the screen along the lines of "3 months later", or something of that nature, and then Morgan being shot.

    2. In the movie, Morgan storms out of the room in which Virgil is being attended by a physician after being shot. He distinctly gives you the impression that he is going to investigate who shot his brother. Next scene? HE IS SHOOTING POOL!!!! What kind of person sees his brother almost killed, and then goes shoot pool a few minutes later at a bar? This made absolutely no sense. Given the fact that Morgan was killed three months AFTER Virgil was shot, the placement of Morgan shooting pool just moments after Virgil was shot is even more ridiculous.

    3. Doc Holliday is not shot during the shootout in the movie. Yet, in real life (and in Wyatt Earp), he is shot in the hip (or buttocks - I cannot find any source that states definitively which one). Now why would Tombstone allow Doc Holliday to walk away from the shootout without being shot? Again, I cannot think of ONE reason from a movie perspective to have done this.

    4. Wyatt meets up with Virgil and Morgan in some unnamed town and they all travel (for what seems like days) in a covered wagon to Tombstone. In real life, Virgil and Wyatt were in Tombstone for several months, along with their brother James, and THEN Morgan arrived. Again, why the need to change this?

    5. Ike Clanton is shown shooting from Fly's at the Earps and Holliday after breaking a window. Yet, all historical accounts document Ike as surrendering (or not even having) his weapons, and then running away. He did NOT participate in the shootout. Why show Ike shooting in the movie when clearly he did not do so in real life?

    6. Wyatt is shown in the movie as being adamantly against becoming a lawman again after his move to Tombstone. I could not find one piece of evidence to support this portrayal. On the contrary, Wyatt Earp always used the law (by being a lawman) to his advantage, and, in fact, ran for sheriff and lost the election. This does not sound like "retirement" to me . . .

    7. Johnny Ringo committed suicide in real life. Yet, in the movie, Ringo is killed by Doc Holliday. Good scene? Yes. Accurate? Obviously not.
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Sam,
    Most people view films as entertainment and not necessarily an avenue to get a quick history lesson. Hollywood has always to a certain degree, romanticized the gunfight because they're in the business to entertain people. The only accurate but unromantic depiction I've ever seen of the gunfight was a television special shown several years ago, either on PBS or A&E. It wasn't too long ago that I used to have a hardline attitude towards military films as far as their accuracy, but over the last couple of months, my realization of Hollywood being in the entertainment business has lessen my desire to criticize their inaccurate depiction of military battles. However, recently A&E has produced "The Lost Battalion" and "Shackleton" which are very accurate in showing their rendition of historical events.



    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Alex Spindler

    Alex Spindler Producer

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    Don't forget that filming events with complete historical accuracy can often result in a very weak narrative. By showing the shootings as occuring on the same night, you get the sense of a very deliberate ambush and it gives great momentum for the revenge act.

    And, the story of Wyatt Earp has always been enhanced by the mythic quality of Doc Holliday. By showing his as being near invincible despite his short lease on life you bring the story to its legendary status. Having him be the demise of Ringo is also great for the narrative. This is especially true for Tombstone, who builds Ringo into a villain that Earp cannot beat.

    Now, I do agree that of all the movies listed, Wyatt Earp would be the most likely to present the facts accurately. But they obviously felt that the narrative was aided by the changes that they made.

    A simple rule always exists : If you are looking for accuracy, check out a book by a reputable author. At the very worst, watch a History Channel documentary. But don't expect accuracy from any film, especially one from Hollywood. They are in the entertainment business, not the documentary business.
     
  4. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    These movies come with an implied disclaimer: based on a true story. That based on only means that the real story gave the filmmakers and idea for a movie. That's it.
    I remember after seeing Braveheart, a friend of mine went looked up William Wallace and turned to me in serious surprise and said, "Hey, the real William Wallace was so different!" [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Comparing OAR to depiction of historical events is ludicrous. OAR is about taking a final product and not wanting it to be butchered. No one is "butchering" history by making a movie based on it. If people actually take Hollywood movies as historical fact, they are idiots and would have been ignorant anyway. If they are interested in the real story, they can always look it up.
     
  5. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    Guys - I understand (and did so when I started the thread) what you are saying, but take another example:

    Titanic - according to reports that I have read, (a) there is no evidence whatsoever that even suggested that Officer Murdoch took bribes (or was the type of person who WOULD take bribes) to allow people on to lifeboats before their designating times, and (b) Cameron issued an apology to one family (I cannot remember if it was to Murdoch's or Lightoller's) because of a specific scene where he intentionally portrayed the man in a "bad light", all the while KNOWING that he had NO evidence to back up the portrayal. Was it really necessary to defame at least one, if not two people, to make this movie any "better"?
     
  6. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    Mike:

    That's a pretty broad statement you make, calling people "ignorant" and "idiots", in the following context (your words):

    "No one is 'butchering' history by making a movie based on it. If people actually take Hollywood movies as historical fact, they are idiots and would have been ignorant anyway. If they are interested in the real story, they can always look it up."

    So if someone made a movie about Hitler's life, and portrayed him as an upright citizen who committed no atrocities and simply decided to kill himself because he could not fathom the idea of falling under Communism, do you really believe that such a movie would not constitute a "butchering" of history?

    There are a SLEW of movies that purport to portray events as they actually occurred. Cameron admitted that Titanic (minus the "love story") was one such attempt. "A Night to Remember" was another. And don't tell me that "The Insider" was not intended as an accurate portrayal of events that occurred involving Jeffrey Weigand and the tobacco industry.

    Why do I HAVE to "look something up", in terms of historical events? Why can't someone who clearly makes a movie about a historical event, simply make a movie that adheres to facts? If you do not consider the following as a "butchering of history" (Doc shooting Ringo, instead of Ringo committing suicide; Doc walking away from the shootout, instead of being shot; Murdoch taking bribes when NO ONE even suggested that he did so), then I don't know what could. One of the definitions of "butcher" is "botch". How can you call murdering someone versus suicide by the victim NOT a "botched" retelling of history?

    Finally, I never compared "OAR to [the] depiction of historical events". I simply find it a bit odd that we go to such lengths to demand that the FRAMING OF A MOVIE be "correct", yet do not even demand with 1/10 the same zeal, that movies based on actual historical events at least try to be as accurate as possible. I am not talking about continuity errors - all movies have them, with probably 99% being unintentional. I am talking about rewriting actual events as though they either never occurred or they occurred differently when compared to real life.

    Now if you still think I belong to a group of "ignorant idiots" based on my posts in this thread, well . . .

    Afterthought: Don't think that Denzel Washington lost the Academy Award for "Hurricane" because someone else deserved it that year. "Hurricane" was an attempt to portray Carter as innocent - no more, no less.

    My whole point in this is that this "disclaimer" you say is put on these films is in such fine print, and at the end of the movie, that few people bother to even read what it says. As unfortunate as the situation is, our young people today rely more on movies and TV for information than they do books, and I simply don't want them to watch a movie and come away thinking "Boy, Hitler was not so bad after all - I didn't see him kill any Jews".

    What is wrong with making an accurate movie about the shootout at the OK Corral, but then putting the following "disclaimer" either at the beginning or end of the movie:

    "The producers and director of this movie acknowledge that some events, such as those scenes between only two people where neither person recounted or documented the events, may be entirely ficticious. But, the producers and directors attempted to accurately portray all events that were either witnessed by others or contemporaneously documented."
     
  7. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I think we all can make our points in this thread without resorting to calling people ignorant or idiots!
    Sam,
    Let's be frank, many people really don't give a hoot about historical accuracy or how much historicial events were skewed for a film, they just want to be entertained.
    Crawdaddy
     
  8. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    Robert:
    I just think it is possible to be entertained and watch an accurate movie at the same time [​IMG]
     
  9. Derek Miner

    Derek Miner Screenwriter

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  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Sam,
    Sometimes that happens such as the films "Gettysburg" and "Apollo 13" which were fairly accurate in their depictions, but also entertaining, at least to me.[​IMG]
    Crawdaddy
     
  11. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    Robert - exactly! I simply wanted one made about the OK Corral [​IMG]
     
  12. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    Derek:

    I also would not (and don't) demand what you said. But cubists, impressionists, and surrealists never purported to accurately paint things as they are seen by people.

    I have seen Monet's "Water Lilies" in person. It is one of my favorite paintings. That does not mean that when I see a group of water lilies in real life, I am disappointed that they do not look like Monet's picture, or vice versa. Yet, Monet never intended to paint a "true life" rendering of a part of nature (as though a camera photographed the water lilies, which is the style some artists use) - he painted it in an impressionist style.

    I'll say it again - my concern is the dumbing down of America and how we obtain our history lessons. If it is going to be through TV and movies, I mildly suggest that the producers and directors at least point out to the viewers what is and is not accurate in the movie.

    Getting back to the Earps/Clantons, when you watch "Tombstone", you come away (at least I did) with the feeling that Wyatt actually feared having to face Johnny Ringo. When you read history, you discover that Wyatt never feared having to face Ringo for one simple reason - he didn't. Ringo killed himself. So instead of a movie that portrays a specific real-life event accurately, we get a movie that shows Wyatt being scared (something I have NEVER seen or read about this man) and Doc being a hero.

    No big deal with this post guys - just wanted to provoke a little conversation. What do I get? Being called an "ignorant idiot" . . .
     
  13. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Sam, I never called you an idiot, and how you got that out of my post I could never guess. I said that people who treat movies as real historical fact are. "If it's in a movie, it must be true." I assume no one here does that. You are obviously not one of those people by the very fact that you started this thread.

    If someone made a movie about Hitler being a sweetheart of a man and somebody believed it, that person is a fool.

    If the issue is that people are getting their "knowledge" of history from movies and are being misinformed, the problem is that they are getting their history info from movies, not that the movie is wrong. It is not Hollywood's responsibility to educate us, even though they try to act like it sometimes.

    Yes, of course a film can be entertaining while being historically accurate. And, it can be entertaining while being completely bogus. A film can also be bad but still be historically accurate. The whole point of the film is to entertain and be art, not a history lesson.
     
  14. Alex Spindler

    Alex Spindler Producer

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    Do you think A Beautiful Mind would have been any better received if it portrayed John Nash's life accurately? I sincerly doubt that it would. If he had been shown to believe that aliens were communicating with him instead of the 'spy story', would it have been a better film? I somehow doubt it, and it would have undermined the believability of the first half of the movie.

    I still contend that real life's details will bog down a decent narrative and liberties are often expected to make a story good.

    One other point. There are several members who will take any fact-based movie to task for historical inaccuracy. This happened with Pearl Harbor, A Beautiful Mind, and Black Hawk Down. In some situations, the reality is perfect for filmed entertainment. Apollo 13 springs to mind immediately as being a historical event that needed no creative nudging to be an excellent story. But these events are rare.
     
  15. Chris Lock

    Chris Lock Second Unit

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    Even Apollo 13 has some minor things changed for dramatic effect; listen to the Jim Lovell commentary for details.

    Bottom line: assume movies are not an accurate portrayal of events, even if based on a true story.
     
  16. Eric Paddon

    Eric Paddon Screenwriter

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    Films that by and large stick to accuracy for the most part are in the end far more entertaining and fascinating than those that gum things up with tawdry fictional melodrama layered over, and where facts are distorted beyond recognition.

    Ultimate cases in point. "A Night To Remember" and the 1979 TV-movie "SOS Titanic" will always be the superior productions about the Titanic. And "Tora! Tora! Tora!" likewise is the superior production about Pearl Harbor.

    This is not to say that a fictional story can never be effectively used against the backdrop of real history in a movie, but the problem with Cameron's "Titanic" is that his fictional story is a *bad* fictional story of the highest order. His fictional characters are not representative of the kind of people who existed in 1912, they are 1990s people acting like 1990s people plucked in a silly melodrama of the highest order. To this day, I have only seen "Titanic" once (the night it opened) because I was so offended by what Cameron did in this movie, which I felt demeaned the victims of the Titanic by trivializing their story.
     
  17. Paul Richardson

    Paul Richardson Second Unit

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    * Real life is boring 99% of the time, even in the lives of famous people.
    * Real life doesn't follow a three-act story structure.
    * In real life, the "goodies" and the "baddies" aren't always crystal clear.
    Very few true stories adapt easily to the film format. The same people who gripe when films don't adhere 100% to true life would be the first ones in here complaining that the movies were "too slow" and "boring" (common complaints made about Wyatt Earp, especially when compared to the less-accurate Tombstone). When a film adopts a true story, it needs to get key moments and themes right...but we shouldn't go in with a checklist and note each and every historical inaccuracy.
    No film has ever gotten true life 100% right. I include documentaries in this statement. Don't expect it, because it'll never happen. Accept that now, and if you can't I suggest you avoid future films that are "based on a true story."
     
  18. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    I believe it's possible for a film to entertain while still being historically accurate. If the film concerns a historical event and is not accurate to the record, then I cannot enjoy it. Not many films based on real events I like.

    If I were a director given a decent budget, I'd try to make a historically accurate film about the great Zeppelins, culminating with the story of the most famous airship of them all.

    Never have seen such a thing.

    Ah, but I'm just dreaming.
     
  19. Eric Paddon

    Eric Paddon Screenwriter

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    There are plenty of fascinating stories of recent history that I think could be dramatized effectively by Hollywood with very little changes to the record in the tradition of Apollo 13 and A Night To Remember. To this day, I still dream of who I'd cast for a movie about the Alger Hiss spy case that helped launch a young congressman named Richard Nixon into the national spotlight. Or about Kennedy Administration policy in Vietnam in 1963 leading up to the coup against South Vietnamese President Diem. A pretty resourceful journalist named Marguerite Higgins, who better than anyone else at the time understood where policy making was going wrong would be an excellent central figure in that kind of movie.

    CGI technology could now give us the story of the Andrea Doria-Stockholm collision with its incredible stories like that of miracle survivor Linda Morgan (catapulted from the Doria to the deck of the Stockholm after the Stockholm's bow went through her cabin).

    In the Biblical epic realm, Paul Maier's "documentary novel" "Pontius Pilate" would make for great cinema as well, as that book unlike Biblical fiction works like "The Robe" is by an historian who only uses fictional mortar to link totally accurate events.

    None of these kinds of projects are ever apt to happen, but one can always still dream.
     
  20. Sam R. Aucoin

    Sam R. Aucoin Stunt Coordinator

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    Paul, you said: "The same people who gripe when films don't adhere 100% to true life would be the first ones in here complaining that the movies were "too slow" and "boring" (common complaints made about Wyatt Earp, especially when compared to the less-accurate Tombstone)."
    I'm not one of those people [​IMG] I liked "Wyatt Earp" FAR more than Tombstone, mainly for the reason that I had a good background knowledge of Earp, and thoroughly enjoyed how accurately they portrayed him in the movie. Yes, the movie was long, and at times, tedious. But with Tombstone, we NEVER know how Wyatt became the man he did - we simply see him walk around and people stare at him in awe, never knowing the reasons for them being awestruck.
    But back to the main point, and I guess I did not make myself sufficiently clear. It is not the ABSENCE of detail and events that cause me grief. It is the DELIBERATE filming of events that EVERYONE with an education on the subject immediately disputes as being untrue. Again, some examples:
    1. Holliday not being shot in "Tombstone". He WAS shot during the shootout. Why deliberately mislead the audience by filming that scene as though he was not?
    2. Holliday shooting Ringo. He did NOT shoot Ringo. Ringo killed himself. Why deliberately mislead the audience into thinking that Holliday "saved" Wyatt from death and at the same time, portray Wyatt as scared. By all accounts I have ever read (and there have been many on this particular subject), I have yet to find one account where anyone ever got even an inkling that Wyatt was afraid of anyone or anything. I am not saying that he wasn't. I am just saying that no one ever documented it as showing through.
    3. Murdoch taking bribes. Now why put this in a movie and slander a man to the point where you have to apologize to his family? Was this really necessary? Did this add ANYTHING to the telling of "Titanic"?
    If one wants some artistic license with some events, then fine - have double-barrell shotguns shoot four shells without reloading ( [​IMG] ) as Holliday's did; have Curly Bill's two six-shooters shoot almost 20 rounds without reloading ( [​IMG] ).
    But don't (1) decide to film a particular event, and then (2) intentionally film it in a way that one knows is not true, when you are clearly making a movie that you intend for people to view as a movie that is accurately retelling that event. That, to me, makes absolutely no sense.
    FYI - at the end of most (if not all) movies made, there is a disclaimer that states that (and I am paraphrasing) any resemblence in the movie to actual people is coincidental. Wonder what caused this? The movie "Rasputin and the Empress", made by MGM in the 1920's and featured the three great Barrymores together on the film for the first time, libeled a person in real life for an INACCURATE portrayal of a real-life event. The end result (in addition to the disclaimer I mentioned above)? The model for Princess Natasha in the movie, real-life Princess Irina Romanoff Youssoupoff, filed a lawsuit against MGM in 1933, claiming invasion of privacy and libel in portraying her as a mistress of Rasputin. She won an award of $127,373 in an English court and an out-of-court settlement with MGM, reportedly of $250,000 in New York.
    So you see - it is not just about me moaning and complaining that movies are not 100% accurate. I don't expect them to be. What I do NOT think should occur is the deliberate misrepresentation of a known fact in a movie about a real-life event, simply for the purpose of "entertainment". Like Jack Briggs above, I am no longer entertained when I know that a scene in a movie is deliberately misrepresenting an event that actually occurred - especially when doing so makes no real difference in the telling of the story.
     

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