attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

With a Spoon?

I've been happily reading history_spork again (though, alas, they haven't had any new entries for about a year). They're much more awesome than me when it comes to shredding movies, but do I love tearing movies apart while I'm watching them.  Honestly, I like most "historical" movies for what they are (usually a good chance to giggle hysterically between wtf?? moments), but the one real exception is the "We swear what we're telling you is the absolute dead-honest truth, no we mean it" type of movie.

Reading their sporking of King Arthur put me in mind of it. To be sure, all movies based on actual events have a certain element of "stupid people will believe this is the real history of The Armada", but a quick look at any history book will disabuse the interested, and everyone else will happily go about their lives, really no more ignorant of history than they were before. It's a movie, for God's sake, not graduate school.

But when they start slapping the "true, true, twoo, we SWEAR IT" label on movies, then they're going a bit too far. I am not a huge proponent of the idea that every movie should have some sort of socially redeeming value (there go my beloved horror movies), but I think if you're going to claim you have an edge up on all the other movies, then you should actually live up to that promise. Otherwise, just make a movie and call it "based on..." just like everyone else.

Mel Gibson is a major offender in this area; Braveheart was just awful - freedom, droit de signeur and a united Scotland? -  and made worse by the claim that it was "OMG, yes true, every bit of it, we're not lying to you this time".  Then, in The Patriot ("no, no, it's just as it happened in the 1700s, right down to the free and emancipated treatment of slaves, because Americans were so much more enlightened than those mean British"), he slapped a few Nazi atrocities onto the history of the British involvement in the War of Independence*, for no reason except that Mel likes his baddies to be black, black as the blackest pitch in HELL, so that when his character butchers the living daylights out of people and traumatizes his sons, he looks good and noble by comparison. 

*(or, as we call it, "that slightly awkward time in the colonies".)

Playing fast and loose with history is fine if you just come out and say "look, we're making shit up", but a generation of Americans is growing up with a very peculiar version of history, and it's making us look a bit retarded to the rest of the world, especially when we go on holiday to those places.

(Okay, most of that isn't the movies' fault; if people ever, you know, read something other than Perez Hilton, Elle, and tabloid rags, they'd be better informed.  But the movies AREN'T HELPING.)

You probably don't expect this, but I tend to give the costuming a pass, even though I giggle at it madly and make snarky comments while I'm watching, because costume in movies is more about creating an atmosphere rather than dead-on accuracy.

...And to make some of them accurately would delay filming by quite a bit. I do love metaphorically ripping them to shreds during the movie, though - and I remember getting so madly excited the first time Bob snarked something we were watching, because it meant I had totally corrupted him, and he was MINE. 


To be absolutely honest, history the way it's taught, is boring. Most kids have no idea how rich and exciting the past is, and if they really knew how full it was of teh sexx0rs and bloody battles, betrayal, incest, more betrayal, outright thieving, and mad bunny sexx0rs with an extra side of betrayal, they'd be riveted. The movies get the excitement right, they just screw up on the facts.  It doesn't need the extra stuff; it's really quite madly exciting all by itself.  The English sneaking fireboats in among the Armada while it was anchored at Calais?  Pure gold.  The battle of Gravelines?  Genius.  Why mash the two together and leave out all the key players?  Ridiculous.  The Armada itself would make a great film - preparations, poor planning, fireships, bad weather, shipwreck off the coast of Ireland, and being killed by the Irish - pathos, courage, comeuppance, and no need for fact bending.   

The other thing is that history is full of coincidence, not logical connections. Each action has a consequence, but there is no neat and tidy way of explaining how things got their names, and being cute just does people a disservice. I know that people like to classify and sort their knowledge, and being able to trot out a quick, smug explanation for something is very satisfying, but, like the neat tied up endings of plot lines in "historical" movies, you're fooling yourself.  Walsingham wasn't a Ninja spy, William Wallace wasn't a commoner fighting for freedom, and Elizabeth never stood on the cliffs (wtf?) in her nightie (Tilbury has no cliffs).  It makes the movie fun, but people should never mistake a movie for history - especially when it comes to historical figures having all sorts of 21st century ideas about the value of the common man, and people's innate right to freedom.

(Remember, before the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, no-one had even thought things like that were worth mentioning.  And it wasn't until Marx started writing about the proles that anyone even considered that worker drones were anything but bodies to be used up, worn out, and replaced with other bodies.  The idea of universal rights for everyone is a concept so new to history that it still has that new-car smell, and the big papery label that reads "this tag not to be removed by anyone but purchaser under penalty of law" is still attached.  Wallace would have stared at you in utter incomprehension if you had started wittering on about freedom, and Elizabeth would have laughed at you.  Rights are for landowners, not the rabble.)

And King Arthur?  Bondage Guinevere, crossbows, and swords from every culture on Earth?  It's just... words fail me.  But take it from me and history_spork , that movie had no truth in it.  I remember when I first started seeing the trailers, and the press releases were talking about how accurate the armour and the weapons were.  I'm no armourer, but I know a 14th century horse rig when I see one.  I just sighed, and waited for it to come on cable.  And it was just as bad as the trailers led me to believe.

I hate it when movies lie to me with a straight face. 
Tags: history, it are learnings, movies, research, spork

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