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January 17, 2015

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner

There’s been a controversy raging in the press this awards season about a number of films based on “true” stories. Critics contend that these films (Selma, Unbroken, Foxcatcher…) are stretching the truth, if not downright misrepresenting what actually happened.

Other films (The Grand Budapest Hotel…) have been taken to task for casting history in too nostalgic a light.

The question of what truth or truths is contained in any work of art has probably existed since the first Paleolithic painting of a wildabeest gamboled across the shadowy walls of a cave.

Look, there’s nothing particularly objective about the way history itself is interpreted by historians. Seems to me, history is a POV business. New takes on historical events come in and out of fashion with each passing generation. It’s no different with the arts.

Documentary or narrative, ultimately where does the “truth” lie? When we watch a period piece, it’s important to ask what the story being told is actually about (Triumph of the Will). More often than not, it’s not about presenting a bunch of objective facts. The story functions as a hook to hang a whole lot of other stuff on.

Sometimes you’ve got to lie to tell the truth. – Jonathan Swift

After all, I don’t think there’s such a concept as “settled” history.


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  1. Agreed, Ray. Good points.


  2. I totally agree Ray.
    Every interpretation of history is ultimately someone’s point of view,
    including of course documentaries.


  3. Dean Paton permalink

    What picture hasn’t been less than faithful to the truth? A screenwriter is almost always forced to condense, telescope, alter, “improve,” in order to tell a taut story. As one of my mentors used to say (and probably still does), “It doesn’t have to be true, but it has to be the truth.”


  4. Moderation? When have you ever practiced moderation?


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