Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Big Messy Post About Movies: Lies, Reality And Whatever Comes In Between

If you think you're going to read this and come away with some big answers or even my big answer, turn away right now. Just thinking about the subject makes my head hurt, so I wanted to write something about it...but I don't profess to have any answers. I may not even be asking the right questions. So, for what it's worth, here's what's making my head hurt this ugly rainy Sunday morning.

Where to start?

When I was a kid, in the 60's and 70's, one of the local TV stations had their "Dialing for Dollars Movie" every morning at 10:00 A.M every weekday. They'd show some old movie (that presumably was in public domain or otherwise really cheap to broadcast), interspersed with commercials, (of course), and a segment where they'd call some random number from the phone book. If the recipient of the call knew what movie was playing, they'd win whatever was in the pot. If they didn't know what movie was on, the station threw another $5.00 into the growing pot for the next phone call.

Well, I was either really good at playing sick when I was a kid, or maybe I really was a kid constantly so ill that going to school was out of the question. I don't know which, but for some reason, I saw a fair amount of these movies.

One movie I remember seeing was "The Life of Emile Zola", the story of a French journalist who exposed Anti-Semitism and corruption in the French officer corps resulting in The Dreyfus Affair. It was a pretty good movie. And I'll admit to you here and now, that I've read a little about the actual trial and about Zola, but I also have to admit that 80% of any knowledge I've got about the case comes from having seen the movie. On the one hand, I can live with that. On the other hand am I just fooling myself that I know anything about what really happened?

I come down on the side of figuring I probably know enough because, A.) it all happened over 100 years ago and probably has little or no real effect on anything happening today, and B.) while I have no doubt that much of the movie was dramatized, I'd also bet that in 1937, the filmmakers probably felt more of a responsibility to be somewhat accurate in their portrayal.

Note: Please, before you start giving me examples of why the previous paragraph is utterly full of shit, I'm already screaming the same things at myself. This is part of why the whole subject makes my head hurt.

OK, let's fast forward to 1991, the year that Oliver Stone blessed us with "JFK". I saw the movie in a theater when it came out. I was suitably aware of all the controversy surrounding the film when I saw it. I took the whole thing with a grain of salt. A lot of grains of salt. But what happens when somebody born in 1980 sees "JFK". I'm sure that somewhere the movie includes some bullshit disclaimer that the movie is based on this or that thing; that it's a dramatization of one theory of the events, or some such bland extenuation. I'm also quite sure that the movie doesn't include anything that says, "Some of the things in this movie happened exactly as portrayed; some of them are very likely to have happened as portrayed, and some of the things in this movie are just steaming turds pulled whole from Oliver Stone's ass."

I have to wonder how many people have seen "JFK" and think it's a fairly accurate portrayal of events. I wonder how much it really matters 45 years after the event. I wonder if I'm an idiot for even asking that last question.

So, what got me thinking about all of this on a dismal Sunday morning? This article in the NY Post. (Yes, the gossip pages of that venerable rag, are what I usually read with my first cup of coffee every morning. Usually there's nothing there to make my head hurt.) I haven't seen "Battle for Haditha" and it's doubtful I ever will. What I know about the events in the movie are what I've seen on the evening news and from scanning some articles about it...which is to say, not very much. I also know that, of the eight Marines originally implicated, charges have been dropped against five. (Note that depending on your view of things, this is either partial vindication for the Marines or clear evidence of a whitewash and coverup.) Knowing my readers, I'm confident that some of you have as clear of a picture of what happened as is possible with the information that's available to the public. (Some of you know details that aren't available to the public yet.) But I'd be willing to bet that 90% of people who slavishly search for every available detail, are doing so solely to back up they're pre-conceived notion that either the Marines are monsters or they're being unfairly vilified.

So, I told you at the beginning that I had no intention of providing any big answers...not even my own. And I won't. If you're interested in pursuing the subject, look at this review by D.G. Smith on FilmCatcher. There's also some worthwhile reading on DefendOurMarines. While I won't claim that either are objective, I didn't notice any foaming at the mouth on either site.

Why did I write this if I wasn't going to even put forward any answers? Because now I've spread the HeadHurt. When I give some of it to you, there's less remaining here. Thanks for helping me out that way. Maybe tomorrow I'll provide too little information and no answers about proselytizing at the U.S. Air Force Academy.


Janiece said...

Nathan, based solely on my own experience in the military and my opinion of the Marine culture, I believe the truth probably lies in the middle.

Were the Marines monsters? Probably not.

Were the Marines self-sacrificing, misunderstood defenders of freedom? Probably not.

And I'm saving the USAFA issue for a day when I'm really pissy and PMSy. It's just too blood-pressure raising to waste on a day where I feel good.

vince said...

Why did I write this if I wasn't going to even put forward any answers? Because now I've spread the HeadHurt. When I give some of it to you, there's less remaining here. Thanks for helping me out that way.

Thanks for sharing. One of these days I really gotta start my own blog so I can return the favor :-)

However, a bit of personal opinion. There is no easy answers. People who get there history exclusivly from popular movies should know that these can't present enough detail and must be dramatized so as not to bore people. And the people involved usually have an agenda, or are least trying to present their point of view.

Documentaries may or may not be any better. They are more likely to be made by people passionate about the point of view they're presenting. And they may or may not be expert enough to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, and present good evidence as opposed to bad evidence. For example, both Al Gore's An Unconvenient Truth and Micheal Moore's Sicko have factual errors in them, and Moore likes to press people's buttons in all his movies. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing; you have to get people's attention, and Moore does. But they both push an agenda, and neither looks seriously at the underlying assumptions (especially Gore).

Bottom line? Do the best fact-checking you can on issues that are important, and realize thet far too many people either can't or won't do this and will rely on the media, in whatever form, to tell them what to believe and not to believe. Because basically, people are stupid.

Why yes, I am in a cynical mood today. My bad.

Nathan said...


I'm sorry to laugh at getting you all wound up, but I've never seen a comment of yours before where it was so obvious that you'd typed it by banging your head against the keyboard.

And don't feel like I'm picking on you; I just realized that I had to change the title of this post because without the word "Lies", it didn't make any sense at all.

vince said...

Well, you know, sometimes physical pain is the antidote for mental pain.

Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow....

Oh, and I know you're not picking on're an equal opportunity pointer-outer of bad typing.

And at least for today, pointer-oputer IS a word! So there.

vince said...

Shit, I still can't type. Gotta switch to my hands.

Anonymous said...

Oh, has your HeadHurt gotten better?

Then TAG: