Should period piece movies be kept true to the era?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Eric Huffstutler, Aug 15, 2004.

  1. Eric Huffstutler

    Eric Huffstutler Screenwriter

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    This goes hand-in-hand with another thread I have been on concerning the upcoming remake of the "War of the Worlds".

    There has been an ongoing controversy as to when this version should be set. Keep it true to the book and in Victorian London or something that modern day people can relate to ala ID4?

    In any event, I considered "Pearl Harbor" an excellent period piece with stunning photography and effects but it was a flop at the box office... why? Most people panned the fact of a sappy love story and things looking too pristine.

    No, things weren't all Ward and June Cleaver back then but at the same time people had different mentalities and morals as well as lack of things we have today. In essence, "Pearl Harbor" was true in all aspects, sappy love story and all.

    People didn't live in a disposable microwave cell-phone toting era. Women stayed home to cook and clean and tended to their family. Children played with other children outside of the home, and fathers fixed up the house and washed and waxed the family car every weekend. All of this may seem cornball compared to today but if you want to stay "true" to a period piece you also have to make the characters period characters too.

    My question is if you are going to make a period movie, should there be any changes to the time, place, and people to more modernize it for today's audiences. Or to keep a book like "War of the Worlds" written in the victorian era true in every aspect right down to the location and the way people talked, acted, and lived - risking another "Pearl Harbor"?

    Eric
     
  2. Amy Mormino

    Amy Mormino Supporting Actor

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    I don't think that the critical failure of Pearl Harbor was due to being too true to history and the norms of that era. There are plenty of sweet, sapppy stories, modern and classics, that have been very successful with audiences and critics. Titanic was an emotional love story that didn't bring in too many jarringly modern touches, and a lot of people loved it. The emotions and the story in Pearl Harbor just didn't ring true with me.

    As for War of the Worlds, I'm not sure if it would be wise for Spielberg and Cruise to go for a period story. They are both too contemporary for a Victorian-set story. I especially hate Cruise's acting in historical films. I could accept a modern updating of Wells' story.
     
  3. Eric Huffstutler

    Eric Huffstutler Screenwriter

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    Thanks Amy.. it's all a matter of view. Here in the states most of the newspapers reviewing the movie when it first hit the screen had one thing in common. They all hated the sappy love story angle. At the same time these same reviewers were mainly in their 20's, way too young to understand or appreciate the reality of the era. But it is their opinions people read.

    As far as "Titanic", that is a world interest story that has effected many families in reality even to today. It was also a disaster story which too screamed for special effects and accuracy and Cameron's movie gave it to us down to the screws in the door frames. Yes, there was a love stoy attached but if it was strictly a Titanic movie without a focal interest then we are speaking documentry [​IMG]

    Other sappy love stories over time... that's just it, they endured time as they became classics prior to the changing times. If "All About Eve" was never made in 1950 but came out today exactly as it is, no changes, do you think it would be a box office hit? I don't think so despite it was the best movie of 1950. Again, people change as do their tastes.
     
  4. Chad R

    Chad R Cinematographer

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    Well, Pearl Harbor was true to the "memory" of the time period, not the actual time. It was a throwback to the WWII movies, not the actual time period. It also played loose with the facts, having its characters perform actions (like dogfighting) that actual herores performed.

    The movie failed because it didn't know what it wanted to be. It wanted the best of both worlds; a gritty historical document of the time, and a sappy love story reminiscent of grand old romances. Much of the violence and gore turned off female audiences, and the love story bored male audiences.

    War of the Worlds even if based in Victorian England, will live or die on completely different criteria than Pearl Harbor. However, knowing Spielberg, this film will be more a remake of the 50's film rather than a new adaptation of the book.
     
  5. StephenA

    StephenA Screenwriter

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    I think they should try to stay true to the time period as much as possible, though I think there'll always be inconsistencies. As long as it isn't blantantly obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb, small things and such shouldn't be much of a problem.
     
  6. Dan Rudolph

    Dan Rudolph Producer

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    If a movie wants to anachronistic as a joke for humor's sake, that's fine, but otherwise, I'd say be true to the era.
     
  7. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    The problem with 'Pearl Harbor' was that people expected it to be centered around Sunday morning, and not the relationships betweeen the actors. Sure, the women might have liked the romance, and the men were disappointed because there wasn't that much in the way of action, but going in with no knowledge of the film would give everyone the impression of the the battle. If it had been named - Hawaii in 1941 everybody would be wondering exactly what it was about.

    'War of the Worlds' go two ways too. One is the hysteria cause by the broadcast, and from that standpoint, it would have to be a period piece, if for nothing else than the fact that the FCC rules were changed after it, not allwing interruptions of radio plays that were a part of the play. Besides, if that were broadcast today, I think most of us would at least be checking for a second opinion before panicing.

    But the contents of the play, the actual invastion itself, could be done in any period. If it were done using today, we could switch channels and all of them would be covering it.

    Glenn
     
  8. MatthewLouwrens

    MatthewLouwrens Producer

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    Glenn - You do know that it was a Wells novel before a Welles radio play, don't you?
     
  9. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    Yeah, but it really didn't impact anyone until it aired.

    Glenn
     
  10. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    Except for two things: 1) no one smoked cigarettes, and 2) everybody loved the black guy. [​IMG]
     
  11. andrew markworthy

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    Umm... not really. You've got to remember that pre-radio, books had far more immediate impact and HG Wells enjoyed enormous fame in his heyday.

    Returning to the original thread, I think there are anachronisms and there are anachronisms:

    (1) Anachronisms that are beyond the pale are those that change fundamental facts about history. Objective Burma is a good example, ditto that recent movie about appropriating the capture of the German Enigma code machine to the USA rather than the Brits and the Poles.
    These are very bad because for those who absorb information from readily accessible culture such as TV or movies rather than scholarly texts (i.e. the majority of people) they will be taken as fact.

    (2) Anachronisms that distort facts about history. E.g. Saving Private Ryan is in itself a worthy piece of cinema, but its belittling of the contribution of British and Commonwealth forces on D Day offended a lot of Brits and members of the Commonwealth. These are bad for the same reason as given in (1).

    (3) Anachronisms that are uncessarily wrong. E.g. in Troy, showing coins being placed on the eyes of the dead (coinage wasn't used at that time), or using the wrong costumes (e.g. Jane Austen in Victorian dress; Ancient Roman soldiers always using the same costume that in fact was only used in the late Roman period). These are silly because you might as well use the correct details as incorrect ones.

    (4) Anachronisms that replace a lot of exposition or fit modern sensibilites. There are numerous examples:

    (i) the use of 'hello' as a greeting is largely a twentieth century phenomenon (previously it was used, but more commonly 'hello' was reserved for announcing that you thought something was suspicious - e.g. 'hello, what's this?')

    (ii) European streets pre-20th century were filthy, even in the posher parts of town (with horses as the main method of transportation, what did you expect?)

    (iii) there were far more people with physical disabilities, poor teeth, etc

    (iv) Americans did not speak with an 'American accent' until at least the 1820s

    These could be corrected, but if you did so, the chances are that people would be distracted from the film to too great a degree. In some cases, arguably they improve matters. E.g. for most of the twentieth century, the majority of people smoked. I don't think it's a bad thing to cut out a lot of smoking scenes, simply because it avoids reinforcing bad habits without distorting accuracy in any important manner.
     
  12. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Please, Saving Private Ryan has done nothing to belittle the contribution of British and Commonwealth forces on D-Day. The film was about a squadron of American troops that landed at Omaha Beach and their assignment to find one American soldier. So how does that belittle the soldiers from other countries?

    However, your point about Objective Burma and U-571 is well taken, but some in Hollywood would probably respond to your complaint by stating they're in the entertainment business and are not history teachers.






    Crawdaddy
     
  13. Lou Sytsma

    Lou Sytsma Producer

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    Ouch! Give it another generation and that's probably the only way people will remember it.
     
  14. todd s

    todd s Lead Actor

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    I remember watching a show where a guy goes back into Victorian England. And the first thing he mentions is how much it stinks from animal and human waste. (I think the show was "The Others".)
     
  15. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    This is wishful thinking, and the kind of idealogy put forth by conservatives of the time (look at just about any post-war newsreal or "educational film," many of which are readily available today) in favour of the kind of world they wanted to exist, and by their like-minded offspring, who for a long time wanted us to believe that America was really like this in the 40's, 50's and early 60's. Truth is, some people lived like that, or wanted to, others smoked a lot, drank too much, abused their wives and kids, suffered from a variety of physical and mental ailments, substituted television for human interaction, indulged but kept hidden their sinful sexual fantasies, lied, cheated, stole, violated biblical teachings, engaged in homosexual and lesbian "activity," acted like hypocrites, gossiped, cursed, the list goes on. Read Eric Schaefer’s BOLD, DARING, SHOCKING, TRUE

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...books&n=507846

    for a top-notch examination of the development of the exploitation film concurrently with the advent of “normal” motion pictures and the way “sleaze” was cleverly disguised as must-see social expose and pedalled to Mr. and Mrs. Middle America and their kin, while nudie cutie films and stag movies provided many a man with an escape from domestic banality, or better yet, check out Bret Miller’s revelatory documentary HELL’S HIGHWAY

    http://www.deepdiscountdvd.com/dvd.cfm?itemID=KOV003122

    for a fascinating, creepy mid-film detour into police “sting films” shot inside community park bathrooms in small-town America, where local men, often pillars of the community, would go to “relieve” each other in a variety of ways (much of it shown on screen), revealing the oft-rumoured dark side to the suburban American postwar dream. The big difference between then and now is that after 40 or 50 years, we’ve learned to destigmatize a whole lot of things that were never that bad in the first place - we were just taught that they were. There are many books and documentaries along these lines, and I’d recommend these two as good starting points to everyone here: searches on Amazon will no doubt turn up related material.

    Just because municipal, educational and federal powers-that-be saw fit to try and brainwash schoolchildren and theatre-goers with films about brushing one’s teeth, eating healthy, the joys of plastic and Jell-O, loving your family and attending 4-H Club events doesn’t mean that life back then was all peachy keen. Thus, there’s a great big load of reasons to believe that many movies of the time, and many more movies of today that reflect the time, are prone to play up the Good Housekeeping/Betty Crocker version of the 40’s and 50’s, rather than the conflicted, sintastic, duality-plagued era it actually was, and in that sense, many movies (though not all) could stand to benefit from considerably less selective retention. Movies like BLUE VELVET or FAR FROM HEAVEN, and various others that deal with the side of society we collectively tend to ignore, are probably closer to reality in their subtext than represenational movies, PearlHarbour among them, that tend to idealize bygone eras as bastions of morality, unquestioning heroism and faith-based decency.

    Andrew Markworthy provided an excellent list of distracting anachronistic tendencies in the movies. Another term for this might be revisionism, something that has long plagued just about every walk of life, from history to religion to science to the deep recesses of our own memories. I’m sure there are plenty of good resources for material on this as well.

    Excellent thread topic, by the way.
     
  16. chris winters

    chris winters Second Unit

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    pearl harbor suffered and benifited from everything usual attributed to a Michael Bay production. Pretty/glossy visuals, and intense action, shallow script and dialogue, style over substance. One a personal level, I found it a little disheartening that the happy, "you get yours now" ending was the fire bombing of Japan. It was one of the most brutal war campaigns in our history. Dont get me wrong, the Japenese were plenty brutal themselves in their actions durring WW2. But to see the fire bombing, an act that killed as many woman and children as the two atomic bombs we later dropped by essentially burning them alive, get the Hoo-Rah Michael Bay treatment did bother me on some level.
     
  17. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    According to Terry Jones, this is not true. Teeth were blacked out in THE HOLY GRAIL in order to satisfy the audience's expectation, but archaeological evidence shows otherwise. Possible reason: while there was no modern dentistry back then, there was no sugar industry either. [​IMG]



    In response to the poster's original question, I think it is up to the artist to determine how many or how few anachronisms are appropriate for each particular work. If there were no anachronisms, we would not have MOULIN ROUGE or the literary sub-genre known as Steampunk.
     
  18. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    How about some alternate thread titles -

    Like - Should period books be kept true to their era when converted to movies?

    Or - Should remakes of movies be kept true to the originals? (think King Kong). Oops, ok the remake of the remake cannot be remade that way.

    Glenn
     
  19. Jonathan White

    Jonathan White Stunt Coordinator

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    Sugar cane was introduced into Britain in the 16th/17th centrury. This did lead to people having bad teeth, prior to this peoples teeth were generally in good condition. Although to begin with it was only the rich who could afford sugar, which led to some people blackening their teeth to try to appear richer than they were.
     
  20. Jesse Sharrow

    Jesse Sharrow Supporting Actor

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    The problem with this whole idea is two things. People who are original fans of "War of the worlds" are going to want it as close to the original as possible. Making it set in the same time period. But the problem is this. Most people that are going to watch this movie are not fanatics. They are everyday movie goers. Who go out the the theatre and pick a movie on the spot. They see that name, dont regonize it and expect it to be like ID4. The problem I see is that doing it in a present day genre will bring more of a everyday movie goer into it. So to make a better profit it would be wise for hollywood to do it this way. But it will make some people mad. Just like "I robot" I think.
     

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