21 Comments

Sorry the discussion on LIES is ridiculous about a movie. Did you say the same for Killers of the Flower Moon? It has more inaccuracies, because Scorsese was communicating the feelings and horror of what happened. Scott wasn't lying or being dishonest. Ask Kubrick about truth in cinema. Sonny is right about Ridley Scott's passion and art. Yes, ART.

You want to know about Napoleon, read a g-d damn book!!

This is a MOVIE, entertainment not true history

Expand full comment

I'm in agreement with Sonny. One of my favorite movies is "Kingdom of Heaven" (another Ridley Scott film). And yeah, it's not super accurate to the historical events that inspired it. But it's a movie that does get at "the truth" of the attitudes that were prevalent during the Crusades in how it portrays the motivations of the characters. So, it's not a great primer for learning the factual details of history. But it does help understand the time period it's based on.

Expand full comment
Nov 22, 2023Liked by Sonny Bunch

Firmly in the "shut up, nerd," camp when it comes to this debate. It's a movie, not a documentary — and even the latter are often inaccurate.

Expand full comment

I agree with you, Michael, especially considering movies tend to also have a disclaimer making clear the movie has taken artistic liberties, so a viewer would have to be an idiot not to appreciate that.

However, with red-faced apologies for being the nerd for a moment, I do think Netflix’s The Crown has done some real life damage to public figures who are alive today in its often wholly fantastical and sensationalised portrayal of modern day royals who still need and rely upon public goodwill, especially here in the UK. I think there is a genuine argument for a clear disclaimer on TV dramas such as this if relating to people who are still alive, and especially when it relates to the dramatisation of hugely painful events, such as the death in a car crash of a young mother (Diana, Princess of Wales).

Expand full comment

Agreed on living memory topics that aren’t stylized (e.g., Elvis, Rocket Man, etc.).

Expand full comment
Nov 22, 2023Liked by Sonny Bunch

Issue is most people do not know history and they think the movie was a real life documentary. Happy Thanksgiving to the crew.

Expand full comment
Nov 22, 2023Liked by Sonny Bunch

"Movies are movies. History is history." Reminds me how the aliens in "Galaxy Quest" called television shows "historical documents." Sigourney Weaver asks them if they believe "Gilligan's Island," and they respond mournfully, "Those poor people..."

Expand full comment

If you are going to portray yourself as history, as something that is supposed to represent reality, then you need to be accurate to the people and events. It doesn't mean that every nitpicky detail needs to be correct or that you cannot spin a different interpretation--but major events should not be out of order (or ignored, even if mentioned only in passing) or that the characters should not act/behave in ways that we know they did not.

If you are doing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure kind of stuff, then anything goes--because you aren't pretending to actually be historical.

A big part of it is what are setting people up to expect.

OTOH, dwarves without beards (be they male or female) in a movie set in Tolkien's Middle-Earth are just WRONG, LOL.

If you are nitpicky about historical accuracy, I strongly recommend that you do not watch much (or even any) "historical fiction."

Expand full comment
Nov 21, 2023Liked by Sonny Bunch

I was fully expecting you to suggest that Ridley Scott just answer,"Are you not entertained?" to reporters. Ethan Hunt and the Butlerian jihad? I am looking forward to your discussions on Dune Part 2. Have a good Thanksgiving!

Expand full comment

HIstory in general has a Rashomon quality to it-- no matter how you convey what occured, there is a perspective to it that will always rub people in different ways.

When it comes to films generally, if you want as close to historical accuracy you can get, watch a documentary; preferably one with as little commentary as possible like Apollo 11.

Otherwise, what you are watching is a dramatic representation that should not be taken 100% literally accurate. Neil DeGrasse Tyson irritates me when he points out scientific inaccuracies in films because he can't suspend disbelief enough, historians do the same with historical movies to me.

However, if the inaccuracy is completely glaring. Something that is so fundamentally inaccurate to the point it is essentially fraudulent (to the character, to the events, to the raison d'etre of everything on screen) or tongue in cheek, or played for other reasons than fact, that's where a line is drawn, and then it should no longer be considered "historical fiction" and should just then be "fiction." Socrates in Bill and Ted's Adventure didn't cite the tagline to Days of our Lives. Abraham Lincoln wasn't a Vampire Hunter. Marty McFly didn't actually give Chuck Berry his signature sound. When you see it, you know what I am talking about.

Expand full comment

Wait, are you saying those latter examples are problematic? I'd have thought those type of movies are exactly the kind of non-historical nonsense you *can* do with historical figures, precisely because they're so obviously fiction, and so obviously intended for other purposes than historical drama.

It's stuff that could be mistaken for a straight dramatization, especially big-budget stuff that *looks* convincing (if you're not learned about the setting, at least), that creates the false narratives, I think. Any dramatic adaptation has a perspective, of course, and fictionalizes at least some unknowable details. (Documentaries do, too, if you want to be rigorous.) That doesn't have to impact the accuracy of *essential* points.

Expand full comment

No, you are overthinking it. Those are just obvious examples. Everyone knows they shouldn't be taken literally as history. IT's all tongue in cheek. That's fine.

But then you get into problems with situations like in Braveheart, and the manner they treat Robert the Bruce-- that is wildly inaccurate, borderline fraudulent and shouldn't be considered history. Its a great movie, it adds the drama, but is so wildly wrong to be galling.

Expand full comment
Nov 22, 2023·edited Nov 22, 2023

OK, we agree. Braveheart is a great example of being terrible specifically because it's got the production to come across as a serious historical epic, but it's nearly all wrong.

This is millions of people's primary image of Scottish history now.

Expand full comment

And to drill the point home, years back, Zero Dark Thirty was looked past for Best Picture people made a stink about the "historical innaccuracies" in the film, particularly to it's depiction of torture. The film that won that year was Argo, a great film, but one that had historical inaccuracies in it too of a different kind, but played differently. IT seemed people were fine where it was played up as increasing the drama and were irritated when it was supposed to be a factual depiction.

Expand full comment

As a historian I see it too often twisted the other way: if history doesn't match what I know from watching a movie (or something on TV, or now, on social media) than the history books must be wrong.

Expand full comment

Years ago when Oliver Stone’s JFK came out, the WaPo ran a looong article debunking its claims. A friend went to see it and got totally caught up in it. I showed her the article and she wailed, “But they made a movie about it!” I think people do expect that film adds a layer of truth. Having said that, I’m w/Ridley Scott about getting too hung up on historical detail at the expense of story. And I’m sure tourists will be very relieved to find out the pyramids are still intact.

Expand full comment
Nov 21, 2023Liked by Sonny Bunch

I guess the problem is this -- who the hell thinks movies are anything but half bs? still the endless re-writing of history in film and tv series that i've been exposed to "fit the times" (or make it actually entertaining, etc...) is ... either just part of the deal and wink everyone should know it, or a dark plot to make us dumber. well i guess that's working then.

Expand full comment

Who the hell believes anything they read on Facebook?

Expand full comment

Note to everyone: Gilligans Island was filmed on the back lot of CBS studios. Do people not get that? Actually I think people don't get that.

Expand full comment
Nov 21, 2023Liked by Sonny Bunch

Happy Thanksgiving, gang. I hope your foods of choice are excellent, your family experiences rewarding and your cocktails of choice refreshing.

Expand full comment
author

You too!

Expand full comment