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  1. #1
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    Historical Accuracy in Movies

    A whole lot of what I'll be saying is kind of subjective so while debates can be had on this thread, it will likely be a more opinion-based debate than seeking objective truth. So anyway:

    I'm a big fan of the movie Braveheart. When I first saw it in the theater I thought it was an instant classic and still feel that it is an example of excellent movie making (despite whatever character flaws Mel Gibson may have, and honestly I tend to ignore such things when considering the art, he's an excellent director). And it never occurred to me for a second that the film was entirely accurate to the real history of William Wallace. I mean I very much doubt that he impregnated the princess and therefore it was his son that eventually took the throne (assuming she had a son that followed the Prince in succession). And I've read articles about how the Scots did not start wearing kilts until centuries after the events of the movie. And I'm sure those who know the actual history of what happened then could point to many, many other inaccuracies in both detail and actual history.

    But I generally disagree that these inaccuracies, generally speaking, were filmmaker mistakes (which is not to say that no actual mistakes were made).

    To make a good movie requires many different aspects and if aligning to historical accuracy will cause one to sacrifice other elements that will make a good movie, then the accuracy should probably be discarded. In a movie about Scots of history, it's a more satisfying film if they are wearing kilts so they should wear kilts in the movie regardless of whether the actual subjects did or did not.

    I very much considered Braveheart to be historical FICTION and figure it played fast and loose with the actual events to give the audience a great movie going experience (which I think it did). If it had been very accurate but dramatically unsatisfying because of its adherence to the facts, then the filmmaker would have been making errors.


    That's not to say that historical accuracy isn't valuable. As an example of a film that was very accurate and benefitted greatly from its accuracy is Goodfellas. At least it's very accurate to Henry Hill's account of what happened. I suppose when the story takes place in the world we live in, accuracy is more important. But then in a similar fashion, certain mistakes are allowed for a better movie overall. There are clear continuity errors when characters are talking and odds are, the emphasis was on the best performance of the takes than making sure the shots match up perfectly. So similarly to Braveheart, one thing is sacrificed for a better overall movie.

    Anyway, my general point is that often historical "mistakes" in filmmaking are not necessarily mistakes. The creators might very have been aware of their inaccuracies but correctly decided that it would be a better movie if they intentionally allowed for certain inaccuracies (like Scots wearing kilts).

    So discuss.

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  3. #2
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    Re: Historical Accuracy in Movies

    Movies are not documentaries or biographies so thereís no expectation of accuracy. And itís understood that events may be merged or dropped to move the primary story forward.

    I donít think anyone even expects the dialog to be true or in context so I donít really see the issue thatís being raised here.

  4. #3
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    Re: Historical Accuracy in Movies

    Quote Originally Posted by SharmaK View Post
    Movies are not documentaries or biographies so there’s no expectation of accuracy. And it’s understood that events may be merged or dropped to move the primary story forward.

    I don’t think anyone even expects the dialog to be true or in context so I don’t really see the issue that’s being raised here.
    I've seen plenty of articles and people dissing Braveheart for its inaccuracies. I wouldn't have known that they didn't wear kilts back then if I hadn't read an article criticizing the film for having them wear kilts.

    And Braveheart, I believe, did more than just merged and dropped, but added what are likely pure fictions. I don't know this for a fact, but I doubt the real William Wallace was heavily influenced to lead his rebellion because his wife was murdered. But it's a great dramatic device that added a lot of emotional resonance to the film so it's fine to add it even if it's complete BS.

  5. #4
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    Re: Historical Accuracy in Movies

    I have more of a problem having Americans playing Scottish parts than wholesale inventions. To be honest, I didnít even know BH was supposed to be historically accurate anyway so I donít know why people would complain. But haters gotta hate!

  6. #5
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    Re: Historical Accuracy in Movies

    Quote Originally Posted by SharmaK View Post
    I have more of a problem having Americans playing Scottish parts than wholesale inventions. To be honest, I didn’t even know BH was supposed to be historically accurate anyway so I don’t know why people would complain. But haters gotta hate!
    I have to guess it's in part a "see how smart I am" thing. Like "I know that Scots didn't wear kilts back then but apparently Mel didn't".

    And I could also see real history geeks (not using "geek" derogatorily) might just be emotionally sticklers for accuracy and it may annoy them when things aren't presented accurately. I would think experts of all types might be subject to that, like if a military movie got some details wrong, it might annoy military people.

  7. #6
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    Re: Historical Accuracy in Movies

    O.k. So, I really am in agreement with you Mican. So I will try to delve into some of the aspects that lead to these expectations, and when we should feel that the historicity has been violated in a way we should think is a mistake.

    So, the thing about movies, is that they are supposed to be good stories. The appealing thing about movies about real life events and people, is that some people have lived such spectacular stories, that are more than worth telling. Brave Heart falls into a beautiful grey area. The character himself is steeped in so much legend it is hard to know what was true to begin with. This leaves a lot for story telling fudging and artistic license.. which we should respect and just enjoy the movie. Other real life events are a little different, but we just can't get away from artistic license, because you can't tell a persons life story in 100percent true to life fashion, no matter how "historically accurate" you want it to be. I would put up the movie about a more recent hero Hacksaw ridge. Here we have an event, that was so spectacular in it's own right.. there isn't any need to make things up, one just has to tell the story. In this kind of story, we would be right to think something like the wrong uniform (akin to the kilts issue in BH) as an actual error unworthy of the story. In all the points that we could know, it would just be poor story telling to deviate from the facts, unless there was some story telling motivation, like pacing, or time constraints.

    WWII movies seem to easily fall into this latter category. Where, even a complete fiction about fictional characters, will be (and should) be held to historical accuracy expectations. If you want to tell a fictional story about Pearl Harbor, you better get the order of events right, like what ships were there.. I mean open a book the info is available, also. people who were actually there are still alive.

    I recall watching Enterprise with Scott Bakula, the old Sci Fy channel t.v. show. In an interview he said it was really hard on the writers, because if they fired a torpedo from the wrong port, they would get fan letters complaining. Now I know these are like extreme fanboys sort of issues, but it seems that WWII stories have a similar expectation of accuracy, and I don't think it is very unreasonable. Also, for fictional worlds like Star trek, it is better world in general to be held to such a high standard.

    So, my conclusion is that it can seem ticky tack, and some times it is.. but the pressure is a generally positive one.
    To serve man.

 

 

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