Hollywood Distorting History?

Foxbat

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An interesting article here:

LONDON (Reuters) - Hollywood film studios are guilty of a "grotesque distortion of history" which is destroying Britain's national identity, a newspaper has quoted historians as saying.

The chief executive of English Heritage, the government body responsible for the historic environment, told the Independent on Sunday film-makers' "sloppy" and "formulaic" approach to history had left a generation of children confused.

"One of my principal concerns is that the majority of children now leave school with the sketchiest of chronology about English history," Simon Thurley said, adding that they turned to films for knowledge.

Antony Beevor, the country's best-selling author of popular history, told the newspaper the Americanisation of British history was a particular problem.

"You can't turn every hero in the world into an American," he said.

The historians singled out "Saving Private Ryan", based on the Normandy World War Two landings, "U-571" about submariners, and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" as prime offenders.

In "Saving Private Ryan" all mention of British or Allied troops was omitted, while the British submariners at the heart of the real action were replaced by Americans in the film "U-571".

"Robin Hood" was accused of distorting of Britain's medieval past.

Beevor described the trend as "shameless and totally irresponsible -- a grotesque distortion of history".

Classical historian Bettany Hughes said it was not just British history that had been misrepresented.

"Hollywood has committed some terrible crimes against history," she said, describing the Hollywood epic "Troy" as a "travesty of mismatched cultural references".

"Dead heroes in Greco-Roman dress were cremated with coins on their eyes -- before money had been invented," she said.



Whilst I agree with some of it, I don't find the omission of British and Commonwealth troops in Saving Private Particularly offensive. After all, it was made by an American from an American point of view.

Is the Americanisation of other cultures now distorting our view of the past? How much of a mix should there be in films between entertainment and factual accuracy?

My own opinion is that (apart from the odd film - U571 :mad: ) it's not too bad at the moment but shouldn't be allowed to get any worse.

If we are not careful, we will create a bunch of Ersatz Hollywood heroes that will become indistinguishible from the real thing.

Here's an interesting point: The Battle Of Stirling as portrayed in Braveheart (a not exactly accurate film itself - best description - a Porridge Western) was nothing like as imaginative as the real thing. Wallace cut away at Stirling Bridge during the night, waited for the English cavalry to charge across in the morning and then pulled away the remaining supports - trapping the cavalry in the marsh on the Scots side. They were subsequently slaughtered. I think this would have made a far better set-piece on the Silver Screen.

Perhaps history has something to teach Hollywood after all :)
 

Brian G Turner

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Unfortunately, the Hollywoodising of history has been a constant theme - Gladiator butchered the actual history of Commodus in the 1990's - but so did "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" in the 1960's.

I have no idea why they do it. Whilst there is always room to "jazz-up" history for the silver screen, as indicated, the real set pieces are often over-looked, even though they could have more impact on an audience.

At the end of the day, it seems to be a lack of appreciation for history - and a lack of imagination as to how to use it.

It'll be interesting to see how the Alexander film turns out...
 

littlemissattitude

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I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone looking for historical - or any other kind of - accuracy from Hollywood is barking up the wrong tree. The film industry has been getting it wrong ever since there's been a film industry. But, the reality is that Hollywood makes an easy, and therefore a popular, target.

The thing is, making a film based on historical events is a tricky thing. History doesn't really have a plot, so for any event or set of events that becomes the subject of a film, a plot has to be imposed on it. That brings distortion right there. Also, the events being depicted took longer to occur, in most cases, than the two or three hours available to the filmmaker to tell the story (unless that filmmaker is trying to be Andy Warhol, in which case he or she won't have much of an audience, as the film would be hours or days long). That makes even more distortion inevitable, because events have to be compressed in order to tell a coherent story.

I think Hollywood (and I'll use the term, although it is my opinion that filmmakers from other places don't do that much better a job at combining accuracy and interest) could do a better job at recreating history. They could hire historical consultants who know their history. They could depend on screenwriters who really know something about the period of history they're writing about. They could try caring about something more than box office receipts (as if that's ever going to happen:p ).

I also think that the educators who have a concern that people, especially young people, are turning too much to films for their concept of history could actually turn those films to their advantage by using them as teaching tools. Show the films in classes where appropriate, then point out where the films are less than accurate and use that as a jumping-off point to explain what actually happened in history. Of course, that would take some effort on the part of the teachers...well, I won't go there, because there are good teachers, but also a lot of lazy teachers (goodness knows I've had some of the latter).

I guess I don't have much sympathy for those who complain about historically innacurate films but don't attempt to get more accurate films made and don't attempt to use the films they criticize as teaching moments. Like they kept saying in the sixties, "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Just criticizing and complaining isn't being part of the solution, IMO.
 

cleasterwood

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Honestly, it's not Hollywood but the writers who aren't doing their homework good enough to get history right. I notice a lot of things in movies that just tick me off because of how erroneous it is. For instance: The Mummy- Imhotep was the architect of the Great Pyramid, never was he a part of Seti I personal circle. Anksunamun was King Tut's wife/sister, and even their Egyptian was fake! So they do it to everyone. Personally for me I think that if you're going to do a movie, even a fictional story, you need to get some things right or at least be original about doing it. It's all in the script writing. I prefer to use some historical accuracies while I ignore others but I have to say if I ever had one of my stories made into a movie, I'd probably be the one wanting to write the script so they don't screw up the story like some of the books I've seen them turn into movies, which are just so badly chopped up it makes me sick.
 

Circus Cranium

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I agree with Ivy that the historical thing is a tough call as far as films go, because there are some fluctuations in the actualy historical facts. Take King Arthur for instance, the new film; so many people were complaining about the accuracy. But nobody really knows if Arthur even EXISTED. He is a legend, a myth. It's like trying to do an accurate interpretation of folklore passed down orally from generations.

On the flip side, good GOD, I agree, some film companies bastardize so much content when trying to make films about anything remotely 'real'. This isn't confined to historical films. I've seen movies about certain concepts or ideas that I've researched personally for one reason or another, and I cringe at the way they breeze over and simplify, or just plain get the details wrong. It makes me crazy that nobody bothered to do any real research; it's like a cookie cutter, assembly line, where all that matters is how much crap you blow up.

But different film companies treat things differently; so I guess blaming 'Hollywood' is a bit like blaming Barnes & Noble for getting a bad book.

I did see an hysterical episode of Saturday Night Live once, where they did a skit showing a man with long dark hair flowing to his waist, with a powdered wig just sitting on top of his head; wearing colonial garb and snorting lines of cocaine. Then the 'announcer' comes in: "NEW, FROM OLIVER STONE....WASHINGTON! STARRING ANTONIO BANDERAS."

I think that said it all.
 

Lacedaemonian

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'Americans have no respect for other peoples cultures or histories' (This is not really a quote.)

I do not expect an American to comprehend how upsetting it is to see your history screwed so badly. Perhaps if we started making films about their history, and really distorting it. Perhaps if we made Vietnam films from the Vietnamese perspective, made Cold War films where the Yanks were the baddies, made films where the baddies were christian fundamentalist terrorists.... The film industry is not a source for accurate history, but does it have to be so inaccurate. I hope that I live to see China rise to become the ultimate superpower. We might have a Chinese Sir Walter Raleigh committing piracy against Japanese ships in the Yellow sea. :)
 

Space Monkey

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I personally don't see what the fuss is about. How can someone making an inaccurate film be described as 'upsetting'?

If people take Hollywood to mean factual then they need a slap up the side of the head. It's entertainment, that's all. If you want factual, it's all right there in books.
On the original subject of kids being more exposed to films than other forms of 'tuition', again, the kids should be told that this is theatre.
Besides - any kid old enough to be watching BraveHeart and Troy should be old enough to distinguish.
 

Circus Cranium

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(I do not expect an American to comprehend how upsetting it is to see your history screwed so badly. Perhaps if we started making films about their history, and really distorting it.)

To quote the late Ronald Reagan, "There you go again." Taking something like bad film making, which is the fault of the individual screen writer, producer, director, ( and I admit there's some crap being made), and then generalizing it to make it about all Americans? 'You don't expect AN American to comprehend someone getting your history wrong'? Well, ironically, it's a tad disconcerting when someone gets your entire culture wrong by using misguided prejudice.
 

polymorphikos

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The Mummy was a good movie (as opposed to the sequel). It was wildly-inaccurate, but never purported accuracy. Provided that they don't go about proclaiming themselves as gospel, I have no problem (and I'm an annoying pedant).

However, when a film takes an actual event, or a well-known story, and guts it, I am irked. This is why I railed against Troy. Actually, if Troy had been any good as a film on its own merits I probably would have enjoyed it despite the inaccuracies. However, glossing and the like of actual events are not good things. Gladiator was also a good movie, even if it was laughable at points. King Arthur just pissed me off. Over a thousand years of legend in a reasonably-codefied form tossed out the window.
 

Space Monkey

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polymorphikos said:
King Arthur just pissed me off. Over a thousand years of legend in a reasonably-codefied form tossed out the window.

So every interpretation of the legend has to comply with the codeified form?
I thought this film was brilliant, a very good and way more acceptable interpretation of Arthur's story than the likes of Excalibur and the romance type portrayals. I always loved the Arthurian legends, and thought this was a total breath of fresh air.

Bottom line, which has been stated already - it's art, and down to the interpretation and telling of the writer.
I'm always up for tossing form out of the window in favour of originality, any day of the week.
 

Lacedaemonian

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When it comes to poltics, culture and history America has no leg with which to stand on. A bad film is a bad film. To rewrite history especially to glorify ones selves in the place of those deserving of legend, is a crime against memory. I apologise for generalising, however it really is not your place to decide what it is that we Europeans get upset about. The fact that you have no comprehension of why we get upset automatically places you into my original generalisation. Europeans value their history, our societies and cultures were shaped over thousands of years. In many instances our personality is shaped by this history. This constant stream of slights is sometimes little near the knuckle. My prejudice is born out of a thousand years of history. :)

U571 - The true hero of this event was a man who lived in my neck of the woods. He volunteered to enter the hatch of the submarine first. The movie starred Jon Bon Jovi. Surely the devil is at work here.
 

polymorphikos

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And so we see why Britain should make more war movies. Nobody was making any about us, so we made Gallipoli and The Light Brigade.

Ah, the golden years when Australia had a film industry.
 

Alexa

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Space Monkey said:
If people take Hollywood to mean factual then they need a slap up the side of the head. It's entertainment, that's all. If you want factual, it's all right there in books.

I completely agree with the slap. I have a girl at work who really believes all she can see into a movie is right and true. Shesusually drives me crazy, so I do my best to avoid her.

If you want to know about history, you have th find out about it from the history books and not from a Hollywood film.

I cannot blame Hollywood for the distorsion of history. A movie has the main role to entertain and relax. I had to admit a lot of Hollywood movies had this effect on me. :)
 

Circus Cranium

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(I apologise for generalising, however it really is not your place to decide what it is that we Europeans get upset about.)

I see. And I suppose you speak for all Europeans. Interesting. Not only are you generalizing about one entire nation that it's clear you know nothing about, you're generalizing about your own as well. I'm married to a European, and I've been to Europe many times for prolonged periods. And as with most educated Americans, I am interested in what goes on in the world outside my little microcosm. Which is why I suspect, American film makers take on these endeavors to begin with. They are broad spectrum, and adventurous, rather than narrow minded.
 

Space Monkey

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Lacedaemonian said:
When it comes to poltics, culture and history America has no leg with which to stand on. A bad film is a bad film. To rewrite history especially to glorify ones selves in the place of those deserving of legend, is a crime against memory. I apologise for generalising, however it really is not your place to decide what it is that we Europeans get upset about. The fact that you have no comprehension of why we get upset automatically places you into my original generalisation. Europeans value their history, our societies and cultures were shaped over thousands of years. In many instances our personality is shaped by this history. This constant stream of slights is sometimes little near the knuckle. My prejudice is born out of a thousand years of history. :)

To start with... You apologise for generalising, yet continue to do this throughout your reply. WE Europeans. AMERICA has no leg to stand on. WE EUROPEANS (again). YOU have no comprehension of why WE get upset. Europeans value OUR history...
I could go on all night, but please don't speak for all Europeans. I didn't vote for you as a diplomat, and I am very much a EUROPEAN, and have my own mind which evidently differs from yours on this.

Singular Hollywood interpretation doesn't represent America. Singular European opinion doesn't represent Europe. Hollywood films don't represent history as ultimate truth. Take a breath and think about this.
FILM COMPANIES ARE IN THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS. THEY AREN'T HISTORICAL DIPLOMATS.
Like you aren't a Euro dip.
See?
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Mhm. If people think they can learn history from blockbuster films, they deserve to be misinformed.

Personally, I think there's a sad loss in our ability to distinguish fact and fiction. And yes, it is worth blaming it on 'entertainers' who twist facts around to make a story that hits the plot points their marketing folks say will appeal the the Mass AUdience. It isn't confined to film either - check out that farrago of crank scholarship and plain bad research, The Da Vinci Code.
 

Winters_Sorrow

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I think the problem stems from the fact that Hollywood film companies often want to tell an interesting story and that there's a few interesting real life stories out there to be told!

If a nasty thing like the truth gets involved, hey - let's call it "based on" :)
Regarding U571, didn't they have a disclaimer at the beginning saying that it was the Royal Navy frigate Bulldog who actually captured it? I mean that does beg the question why change it, but most Hollywood films live or die on their performance at the box office in the states - if they are a hit abroad so much the better.

I prefer to think (in my naive way) that if a historical movie is good, even if fatally flawed (i.e. Gladiator) then it encourages people to delve more into that era in a thirst for knowledge!

On another note - yes corporation's bad! Grrr Bill Gates!! :mad:
 

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