The Great Film Debate Mk 3 – Historical Inaccuracies

This is always a controversial point, and a huge thing of contempt for myself, so let us delve into some of the most blatantly inaccurate films ever made…

First off –

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008)

It’s a goldmine! An enjoyable film, yes, and very readable book, but to get properly ‘in’ to it, it would have been a lot more believable has it followed what really happened. According to at least one of my contemporaries, the idea behind the film was to show the innocence of the youth of the nation, and how ridiculous this made Nazi Germany and the policies of the Third Reich. But surely you can do that in other ways than re-writing history and offending a lot of people along the way? The main character, Bruno (pictured), although being 8, would have known what a Jew was. And Shmuel, the friend he makes in Auschwitz, would, I am very much afraid to say, have been culled on first arrival. He was 8! Nearly all children and those under 15 years of age went straight to be exterminated. Fact of life. (Also, in the film, the actor playing Shmuel did not look like he belonged in a concentration camp, and was a weak actor – bad casting maybe?) Aside from these first two foibles, the film also made a huge mistake in that Bruno would not have been so close to such a place. If, indeed, the camp was Auschwitz (it is never really stated, just assumed), security would have been higher, no? The language John Boyne (author of the book) uses is infuriating sometimes – surely the ‘nicknames’ of ‘Out-With’ (instead, one presumes, of Auschwitz), and ‘the Fury’ (The Führer) only work if the characters are speaking English. But they wouldn’t have been, as they would have been speaking German! That, surely, is one of the most obvious downfalls.  I found the most believable parts of this film was when it was suggested that Bruno’s mother has an affair with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, and the arguments the situation causes. Not the politics, never the history. I do not see the point in using such a huge event in history and then changing it to tell the story. I believe the Holocaust does not need to be changed to emphasise the horror and atrocities and contradictions behind it. Enough.

Gladiator (2000)

This film I enjoy greatly, but I am led to believe it might have something to do with the fact that I know less about the Roman Empire, and therefore am just happy to enjoy the story. However, twisted history does not do well for good teaching. A great deal of history is, confusingly to me, based on opinion, but there are still facts there. Yes really.

So! What’s wrong with Gladiator? Well, mainly, most of it’s quite wrong. But again, an enjoyable watch. Mild amounts more of respect than that for Striped PJs, although obviously you can’t even really begin to compare except on a very rudimentary and crude level. Historical advisors were even hired for this film, one taking a step back from the project, and one withdrawing his name from the credits altogether, after such huge changes were made. In short, and very briefly:

– Marcus Aurelius died of plague, and was not murdered by Commodus.

– Commodus had his sister, Lucilla, murdered.

– Commodus is reportedly killed in the bath (strangled), by a wrestler. Not Maximus, and not at the Colosseum.

– A Roman usurper called Maximus did exist, but 230 years post-Commodus.

And this is just a selection of the huge inaccuracies that basically means Mr R Scott completely wasted his time trying to make the film accurate. Others include idiosyncracies of the characters (Commodus’ thumb up/thumb down routine is myth), costuming, which is never accurate, and the fact that Rome is founded as a monarchy. Possible my personal favourite… However, it still makes for a good story (or so I think). Perhaps because I first saw it so long ago means the historical inaccuracies do not mean a huge amount to me.

Amadeus (1984)

Another example of exacerbating a story to make apparently more engaging and watchable material. Some directors seem to be terrified that history alone will not make for a good story. The two major flaws with this very enjoyable film is that a/ Mozart was most definitely not American (it still baffles me he is allowed, or even as an actor, uses, his regular accent) and b/ there may have been mild rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, but there is no evidence to state that the latter was the catalyst of the demise of the former. They were even on good enough terms to write pieces together. At one point in the film, Mozart is commissioned to write an opera by the king, and it is stated it should be written in Italian. But Amadeus protests and insists on German – and if his language is German, why are the characters not speaking German? Or Italian? Indeed it is an American made film, but there is no reason, other than the ‘common tongue’ currently appears to be English, for it not to be in the language they would have been speaking. This also goes for Striped PJs and Gladiator, incidentally. Actually any film that is set in a county that doesn’t speak the language they are using in the film. Although there are some blindingly obvious ones in this, it is a very enjoyable watch. Especially once you get past Mozart’s accent and laugh. Perhaps the director wished to make it as melodramatic as one of Mozart’s operas.

Pocahontas (1995)

This one is my personal favourite as the Disney version plays on the separation of Pocahontas and John Smith as the saddest part. It would seem that Pocahontas was actually about ten when John Smith (who, I assume, would not have been a 6 foot buff blue-wearing ponce with blonde flowing locks) rocked over on the boat, settled, and then needed to be saved by her. As history goes, there is only his story to support what happened, and not a huge amount suggested they were ever in love or to get married. Said native American does, however, marry John Rolfe, travels to England with him (in a bid to show two communities can get on), and then dies just before the return to England. It would appear her immune system was not hardened enough against the many, many diseases that our shores had to offer her. She was around 21/22, although seemed to have some form of influence so it was not a total loss I suppose. But really Disney, what were you thinking? I am mortified to learn that Christian Bale lent his name to the Disney version. What were YOU thinking, Bale?

The questions being:

– Is it morally correct to be historically inaccurate when telling a historical tale?

– Which is more important, the tale and the meaning, or the accuracy?

– Is it ok to bend the truth for a better story, even if it shows lack of respect for some things, maybe even the dead?

– Do you not then just fall under the category of The Sun Trash?

Why use actual events but fictional stories? It makes no sense to me. I am adamant that stories do not need to be twisted to emphasise a point. Life can be as devastating or as exciting as it is, like it is. Artistic license not needed!


The Great Film Debate, Mk 2.

Adapting Words To Film

Is it ever a good idea to change the medium of a story to retell said story? How much of the tale gets lost and is there an optimum format to digest the initial tale through?

Now our first example, for want of a better adaption in the last 100 years since celluloid has been around, I give ‘The Lord Of The Rings’.

(Totally not just an excuse to insert marvellous pictures of some of the most awesome characters ever)

This, I feel, was a successful slide from book to film: I read the book(s) years ago, after ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’ appeared, and I’m not going to lie – I did not enjoy them. At all. Tolkien takes so long to say anything he might as well have been one of the Ents he was writing about. And boring! So very dull and boring. Who thinks they can get away with writing a 60 page chapter about some people sitting around talking? Fair enough, it was deciding the Ring’s fate (Council of Elrond, another hideously dull character), but he could have made things just a little more exciting.

There was such little motivation to find out what happened that it took me ages to finish the books, and I was rather unimpressed by this hefty slice of Tolkien’s work. It is a good thing, then, that the film is actually amazing. Top Ten easily, an absolute feat of film-making, direction, costuming, acting, stunt-creating… Really it baffles me how the operation took place. But I am exceptionally glad it did, or else I wouldn’t know about this marvellous world that Tolkien had created. So the world I love, but his initial medium and story telling abilities have a lot to be desired (in my opinion – bear in mind I really don’t like Shakespeare). But the films are incredible and in this case, I feel, that method of story telling was more appropriate as Tolkien’s work needed bringing to life. Which is easier – so much easier – with visuals, when you are missing the words.

For our second example, we are featuring ‘American Psycho’, another film I can watch again and again and again. And again. Lots really, I find it hilarious most of the time. More so than the book actually. Now I think this is a case where  both mediums are well-chosen – the book is brilliantly written, and it’s one of those rare ones that I’ve actually really enjoyed (much like ‘The Road’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’), but similarly I don’t think the film does the book any injustices. I saw the film first – which obviously has the potential to sway my ideas – but the book gives you everything, it leaves nothing out and you don’t have to use your imagination for it. It’s all there for you to read, and so readable it is too! The film, however, is more one of those “films for intelligent souls” (other than something like ‘Love Actually’ or ‘Bring It On’. I cannot believe I just mentioned the latter…), in that it hints at various things, and the more times you watch it, the better it gets. Had I read the book first then seen the film, I would have felt a little cheated, and to the film’s disparagement, it is irritating and pointless when screen writers change names and situations for, what feels like, the sake of it. I think the film relies (or rather utilises extensively) a lot on its medium – it uses the visuals for all they are worth but this is good. I’m not sure if I could cope with a 180 minute epic about a serial killer who may or may not actually BE a serial killer.

(This picture comes from one of my favourite scenes in the film, where Christian Bale is about to take an axe to Jared Leto’s face but insists on discussing the merits and demerits of Huey Lewis And The News before hand. It’s genius!)

Our next example features (dare I say it) HARRY POTTER. Mainly because these really were written for children (or adults with no sense of decent literature), and it is a prime example that if the story is terrible to begin with, the film direction awful with cringe-worthy acting and a sickening script, the book so badly written it literally is like “wading through treacle” (thank you Mr Fry), then there is nothing you can do and you end up with a massive franchise that was based on TALENTLESS DRIVEL. Oh wait, that’s what happens nowadays anyway. One does really feel like it is a poor man’s Lord Of The Rings, and what’s the point in making a film that big if you’re not going to do a proper job? Also, to be fair to every film director that’s lent their name to the HP world, it’s not like you’re starting off with an epic book that is actually well-respected in the world of words so it’s not like they have the easiest job. But as we have proven above, there is an awful lot to be gained out of film adaptations, and you can attract a great many people who are just not interested in books: but they completely failed to do this and the films are on the same very low-level as the books. On the plus side, at least they kept a decent trend going. If it was not so clear that JK Rowling had pilfered everything from every fantasy novel ever written before hand, she may have got on better… Obviously everyone learns from what has come before them but you don’t need to be so blindly crude about it.

In essence, a lot depends on how good the author is at story telling, as I feel unless the film has a terrible script and many other things besides, then it is so much easier to sit absently mindedly in front of a screen for a few hours. So the author needs to grab your attention as it is so very easy to throw a book down in frustration (has been done frequently). I also feel the art of reading is being lost, or at least has been on the decline, so it is difficult to appeal to the average person – going to the cinema makes for a pleasant evening out, reading seems to be more something to do if there is not much else to do. It is a time filler more than the premiere of a new film is. I am of the opinion that film makers have it easier than authors, but they could still miss out so much detail from the book. They have the power to make a story much more exciting though, and that is an encouraging thought.

To Watch:

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (1962)

‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ (I sincerely hope the film is an improvement: how can it not be with James Mason!)

To Read then Watch:

‘Moby Dick’

All Thomas Hardy novels I’ve missed out (the only decent ‘classic’ around, clearly)

‘Brighton Rock’

The Great Film Debate: Mk 1

The Charm Of The Black And White Film.

You know it really does exist. A sad but true fact is that I generally prefer black and white films to the “new” ones – although this may be because of my rather cultured upbringing. Haha. I am aware the black and white aspect of films can completely put people off of them – but it’s such a mistake! I believe one person even said they can’t watch black and white. Sad times. It is also a rather dismal fact that most people seem to be drawn to more visually stunning pieces, and think older films too “boring”. Fair enough, film is about the visual so you want it to look good, but there are so many old films that have fantastic visual qualities that YOU should be looking at:

This excellent shot from Citizen Kane (which, incidentally, was very influential for further film-based products, using ground breaking camera techniques) is an excellent example – how it was done is anyone’s guess, as, generally for such a shot, common sense would suggest you’d end up with the camera reflected in the mirror too.

And on the right is one of my favourite shots from ‘Since You Went Away’, a 1942 propaganda film about the home front in America. This scene is taken from a dance in an aircraft hangar, which, as I understand it, used to happen an awful lot. Check out the wonderful extended shadows and the lighting just from the spotlights.

And if these aren’t effective to you, we need to have words.

As the black and white film was less reliant on CGI, huge explosions and “buses going really fast” (etc), usually there is a better story line too. For example – ‘Strangers On A Train’ (it’s an essential watch), to ‘Resident Evil’ trilogy. Actually any zombie movie – such a generic story line! And all the characters are so stereotypical it’s sickening. And boring. And not even funny because they’re so bad. Having said that, I am a Bond fan, films which seem to involve a lot of stock characters and similar story lines too…

Aside from being just as good (or better?) than some modern films, black and whites are the foundations of everything we watch nowadays on ‘the big screen’, so one can’t really knock it too much. You would probably be criticising a lot of good things without realising – Hitchcock, Olivier, Better Davis, Humphrey Bogart (*sigh*), David O. Selznick, Franz Waxman etc etc. And worst of all, generally not only do people write off all black and white films altogether, they also do it before they’ve really seen any – as such, judging an entire ‘genre’ without having anything to judge it on. Not cool.

Black and whites can also be a great study of the times, just like with any other art form that has been contextualised. Films like — and — And maybe even if it’s not contextualised: films have been affected by political regimes (usually extreme left or right ones) just as much as anything else.

You know the montage? It first appeared in a black and white film.  AND it was silent. Alas, aside from that ‘The Battleship Potemkin’ isn’t too engaging, but it’s an educational watch if nothing else.

Some of the most famous films are colourless (as it were) – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Brief Encounter’, ‘High Noon’, ’12 Angry Men’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Casablanca’ (though I’d avoid the last one as nothing happens. It’s incredibly boring), so on and so forth… At least give them a try! If nothing else, you would at least be able to have an opinion on them. And who knows, you may even like them. If you do, there’s plenty more where they came from, and people seem to like quaint, ‘quirky’ (*vomits*), English things (it’s seems ok to say “English”, but not so much “British”. The latter seems too BNP themed), which all films that came out of British studios in the 30s/40s/50s are.

If you wish for something new to watch, try some of these:

1 – ‘Night Train To Munich’ (1940)

2 – ‘Rebecca’ (1940)

3 – ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935)

4 – ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ (1945)

5 – ‘All About Eve’ (1950)

It’s true, generally black and white films rely an awful lot on their ‘quaint’, charming aspect to be popular nowadays, but if you search well, you’ll find some marvellous things you’ve been missing for a long time.

‘The Road’ – Cormac McCarthy. (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

Well. This book’s quite moving isn’t it. Eye-opening. Enthralling. Amazing? Amazing.

I quite liked it yes. YOU NEED TO READ IT. EVERYONE needs to read it.

I am rather interested to see the film now – even more so than I was, except most cinemas don’t seem to be showing it much or at all currently.. Alas!

So. Cormac. I finished this last night curled up in a comfortable bed with Lapsang Souchong, listening to Classic FM. These are all things I am now that much more grateful for. Be warned, recovery time is definitely needed, post-reading.

Despite being easy to read (in that you don’t have to read a sentence twice to understand it – a rarity at the moment I find), McCarthy sucks you into the world of ‘The Road’ – I believe “suck” is an appropriate word here, as it’s not really an enjoyable world and you wouldn’t want to live here anyway. The frailty of life is so disturbing you HAVE to know what happens – you have to find out whether they get through this. I think Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn for those uncultured types) said of his character “the man”, that he is essentially learning from the child throughout the whole journey. This is indeed true to a certain extent, as the boy has qualities that the man lost a long time ago – innocence, faith, types of wisdom the man cannot cling onto – but then both characters need each other far more than you first realise. This is quite representative of the need for community in human life, as the boy needs the man to find him food, but the man needs the boy to continue human life. Is the man driven by his love for the boy and his survival, or by his own survival instinct? The two are surely almost the same, as even if the man is going to die, life can still continue after he is gone.

300 pages Cormac? How the hell did you do it? It’s all the same! Yet all so good. So how did you do it? The plot just revolves around two males fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. I certainly could not have made this last so long.

I was slightly fascinated by the sick images McCarthy conjured up, like the humans being held captive and being harvested for food, and, worst of all, the idea of a new-born child being wheeled around on a spit. How is that survival instinct?! To kill something newborn? To kill life? Moronic characters.

I suppose it was also slightly moronic of me to not see death coming (I was racking my brains as to how it was going to end), as they had survived for so long, so why stop now? But the death was so mortifying! So utterly tragic and so sad. He has led the boy through so much and kept him alive for so long that it just seemed so cruel this would happen. But was this some sort of moral tale? That the boy had faith in human life so he survived and was saved by “the good ones”, was able to continue to “carry the fire”, and live? And the man was not allowed to do this because he saw no hope in humanity apart from in his own son? The boy showed his naiveté, but brought a ‘freshness’ to the view on human life – he seemed to know there was some good left in the world and that it was worth fighting for. I was almost as terrified as he must have been when they were at the beach and the boy was ill. Now that would have been a depressing end to things wouldn’t it.

So much of the time you don’t even have the emotional capacity to consider what they have lost, as you are so caught up on what they still have to lose. This does make you think about our lives now, and appreciate that we do have community, we don’t eat each other, we are able to experience still the first snowdrops in spring, or a good pint on a warm summer’s evening, the cosiness of the bed after you’ve tumble dried the bedsheets and the warming glow of the open fire. In your living room. And if you don’t have time to consider what they already had lost (a wife, friends etc), then you don’t really have time to relate it to your life, so you don’t get to consider what it would be like losing your life partner or best friends, and yet someone you still attach yourself emotionally too them and begin to understand their situation. HOW does the author do this?! I say only “begin to understand”, as I don’t think anyone could really comprehend such a situation unless they’d lived through it, which is currently unlikely.

I found the end of the book somewhat more abrupt than I thought it would have been – I needed more words McCarthy! Although it was a very good ending, and it was an actual ENDING. Unlike in books like ‘Disgrace’ (Coetzee) and ‘The Bell Jar’ (Plath-o-rama). I adore good endings. Despite them sometimes, especially in this case, being ones that actually make you cry. There was a glimmer of hope though, as the boy is found and he survives, and there is a girl his age. Is this what they had been fighting for? The boy grew up very suddenly too, although this was no bad thing. As soon as the man died, the boy was almost the new man – he went from being helpless to carrying the fire in a matter of pages.

I found it odd how the weather had continued yet life had died, although I imagine this just shows how nature will always be there – it was very much a nature over humans book. There were also times when I couldn’t put the book down because the characters hadn’t eaten for days and I needed to know they found food. I couldn’t relax otherwise. It was also ironic that a weapon used to take life (the gun) was their saviour on so many occasions, and their hope for life also. Very odd. But well crafted.

Just one small criticism Cormac. You cannot punctuate to save your bloody life. And I swear you make up half those words. Is “crozzled” really a word? There was a fair amount of American-English in there, something which I don’t normally care for, and how, really, is it possibly for such an author to miss out apostrophes?! Has no one proofread this? Do you not need a system Cormac? Is it not called Language? Did no one tell you each new sentence NEEDS A CAPITAL? I also do not care for mangled English, yet somehow the vast quantity of it in this book didn’t actually detracted from my enjoyment of it. Another plus for McCarthy, his words and story telling over take everything else.

If ever you are feeling bad thoughts about the world, you must read this book. It is a necessity.

Basterds of the Inglourious Nature.

I cannot believe it took me until last Tuesday to first see this. It’s like ‘Pulp Fiction’ but with Nazis! So many merits on so many aspects, I have no idea which to divulge into first.

Seeing as I’ve sampled a few pieces here, let’s try music (if you haven’t yet pressed PLAY, you’re a fool. Get on it) Usually I’m not a fan of injecting contextualised films with contemporary instruments (such as in ‘Sharpe’ – the electric guitar just didn’t seem to fit), but it worked so well here. Is this possibly because the cinematography allowed it to look normal, and not with that slight twinge of colour so as to make it ‘1940’s’? I find this happens in so many British/American films set in the earlier part of the 20th century – ‘The Reader’, ‘Glorious ’39’ and so on – and to be completely honest I find it incredibly patronising. Just because they were living 70 years ago does not mean they didn’t have vibrant colours… You don’t have to make a film look sepia just because the aged photographs look like that now. The score is out of this world too – it’s the first piece of  Ennio Morricone I’ve really enjoyed, and somehow – somehow – it fits brilliantly. In any context, the piece ‘Un Amico’ seems to be a content, even slightly happy, piece, and yet it’s used when everyone’s dying. And it still works. How is this?! It seems to sort of say “Yes I know it’s tragic, but that’s life and it’s happening now so you might as well accept it”, almost like the contentment is one of “there’s no point worrying because there’s nothing I can do to stop it. So panic not.” Beautiful. Just epic. There was a lovely mix of authentic French 1940s ‘hits’, contemporary pieces (how does David Bowie fit in a film about Nazis? Is it because Tarantino is so damn good?), and the score, and I loved every minute of it. Nothing fits like a very satisfying glove more than an appropriate soundtrack. Go musicians!

What now?! So much to talk about! I think we should give time to the acting. I’ve researched a little and discovered most of whom ended up in the cast list were not the first choices of Mr Tarantino. But I think you’ll all agree they did an epic job. As annoying as he can be, Brad Pitt was brilliant. Absolutely, stunningly brilliant. From his brash Southern American tones and temperaments, which he kept going so well throughout the film, even when his character was trying to be Italian (“Bon-jor-no.” Yes Brad.), to his wonderfully unsentimental treatment of the Nazis and his courageous stand against them. And Christoph Waltz – yes yes fucking yes. Evilest man ever maybe? The fact I never want to meet him even as an actor (and probably a normal and nice man), does rather suggest his immense talent at playing this role. I believe he initially declined, stating the role was “unplayable”, but clearly he was lying. Michael Fassbender should also get a special mention, partly because of the name, partly because I loved his character, and partly because he did such a fantastic job with it. Eli Roth as the ‘Bear Jewwww’ was a brilliant idea – he’s so terrifying anyway (and so weird?!), it’s hard to imagine anyone else could have played it as well as he did. All actors made their characters so so believable. I think, obviously aside from Brad Pitt (who seems to be so bloody versatile anyway), Tarantino did very well to work with lesser-known actors, thus making them less typecast and more character based. Well played Quentin. Well played indeed.

I was also impressed with the story line – I haven’t seen many films involving Nazis where the Jews actually fought back. It took a refreshingly new angle on the persecution of the Jews, which I was not expecting and actually liked – even if it’s fictional, it’s nice to believe they were content to accept their ‘fate’ and just get on with it. ‘Tarantino gets lost in a fictional World War 2″ might be true, but there are so many conflicting answers and occurences in history that maybe Tarantino was playing on this, and saying “Would it not be great if…?” This is probably the first film I’ve actually enjoyed that was obviously historically inaccurate – and that never happens. I consider it to be the story telling which made it believable. Films like ‘The Boy In The Stripped Pyjamas’ – so inaccurate it is almost laughable, and that distracted from my full enjoyment of said film, but I found no qualms with ‘Inglourious Basterds’ doing this. It would be awfully good if the three most powerful men of the Third Reich were stupid enough to collect themselves so obviously into one room (sitting targets!), but alas.

In true Tarantino style, his ‘chapters’ featured too, but I find this can be good. Although sometimes he seems to want his films to be books. But it’s a good mini break and a good catch-up for the not-so-intelligent-viewer. The only thing I didn’t like was the amount of gore involved (when he says “scalps”, he really means scalps), but I assume this was aiming to be quite realistic, and I’m a bit of a ponce anyway – it’s not an actual criticism of the film.

All in all, there was a general feeling of “this is actually brilliant”, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in ages. In many ways I hate Tarantino for being this awesome, but then if he didn’t make the films there would be nothing to view, and it’s awfully relieving to know that films of this calibre can still be made today. Very good work!