A Somewhat Apology: The following content was cribbed from a New York Times column, called “The Oscar For Best Fabrication”, written by Maureen Dowd on February 17, 2013. I would have written this first, but I was not privy to the information she acquired. If I had been, I am sure Maureen Dowd would be somewhat apologizing to me.
My favorite analogy about having it both ways:
In the movie North Dallas Forty, a football player is arguing with his coach, and the player is getting increasingly frustrated, because, as he explains, “When I call it a game, you call it a business; and when I call it a business, you call it a game.”
Ipso facto with movies “based on actual events” – or, as touted in Zero Dark Thirty, “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” – where, when you call it a movie, they call it “a movie based on actual events”, but when you criticize their inaccuracies, they say, “It’s only a movie.”
Case in point – and it saddens me, because I am an enthusiastic admirer of the movie – Lincoln.
After viewing Lincoln, a current Connecticut congressman complained that the movie falsely depicted two Connecticut legislators voting “Nay” on the issue of the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing the slaves. To clarify – if clarifying were needed – that means the Connecticut legislators voted against the Constitutional amendment freeing the slaves.
Historically, it turns out, the Connecticut legislators, in fact, voted in favor of the Constitutional amendment freeing the slaves.
Meaning that, on a historical point which is evidentiarily verifiable, the movie’s representation of their vote was the exact opposite of what actually occurred.
There’s a story in which two people at the end of World War I are conversing, and one of them says, “I wonder what posterity will say about this war?” and the other replies, “I know what it won’t say. It won’t say that Belgium invaded Germany.”
In the context of Connecticut’s Thirteenth Amendment vote, Lincoln unabashedly proclaims that Belgium invaded Germany.
Why, did they do that? Because, to summarize what I am about to say in greater – possibly unnecessary – length, despite its inaccurary, it was more dramatic for the movie to get it wrong.
Although historical accuracy required the legislators to be called to vote alphabetically according to their surnames – and the filmmakers were apprised of this by a Lincoln historian attached to the picture – the movie instead opted to have the legislators’ votes recorded alphabetically according to their state.
The movie decided to perpetuate this inaccuracy, because, as a “rhythmic device”, it was deemed more dramatically powerful to hear the names of the states being called out alphabetically than to hear an alphabetical reading of the names of Nineteenth Century lawmakers nobody ever heard of (possibly even in the Nineteenth Century.)
Moreover, in order to build suspense as to whether the amendment would pass, the early votes needed to be against it. As a result, a deliberate decision was made to ignore the fact that the Connecticut congressmen voted in favor of abolishing slavery, have the legislators recognized by their states, and, since “Connecticut” starts with an early-alphabetical “C”, to have their vote be recorded as “Nay.”
Acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner, who wrote the Lincoln screenplay staunchly defends their decision to get things wrong, clinging to the view that movies should not be held to the scrupulosity of history books, thus making it acceptable to depict the congressmen voting by state, having the early vote being “Connecticut’s”, and having that vote be recorded in the movie as “Nay.” (The Connecticut legislators were given invented names in the movie, but I’m not sure if that makes things better or worse.)
“It’s ridiculous,” Kushner went on, concerning the fuss made over what he clearly viewed as an insignificant adjustment. “It’s like saying that Lincoln didn’t have green socks, he had blue socks.”
To my ear, that sounds like an outlandish – and surprisingly stupid – comparison, though I hesitate to place my views in opposition to the oft-proven depth and understanding of Tony Kushner. Still, flipping someone’s heroic vote against slavery into a vote to retain slavery…call me crazy, but that sounds bigger than a socks-color switcheroo.
Finally, a mention of a Chilean picture we saw a few days ago – and I enjoyed tremendously – called No. No depicts an ad man employing blatantly commercial techniques during the 1988 plebiscite on whether to oust or retain the country’s ruling dictator, Pinochet.
(Spoiler Alert: His side wins.)
I do not know how much of No is real. And I don’t really care, because the film’s buoyant optimism was transporting and – Spoiler Alert – the underdog prevailed.
Overall, I prefer “based on actual events” movies to be scrupulously accurate. But if the movie Earl calls me a wavering hypocrite on this issue…
I will not make a fuss.
(I would only ask if I could play me as an old man. Possibly narrating the entire picture.)