Monday, October 26, 2015

"The Reel Deal... Or Is It? .... And Anyway, Who Cares?... Besides Me."

I have written about this before, but I am writing it differently this time, because I am a congenital “Good Boy” and “Good Boys” do not reprise identical material and pretend it’s something new.  (In the Major Dad pilot, I concocted an original “Knock-knock” joke, because I felt using an already familiar “Knock-knock” joke was cheating.)

We recently saw the Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks-starring Bridge of Spies, concerning an historic prisoner exchange during the Cold War.  The film arrived virtually simultaneously with Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin. 

I identify those specific names with the projects to explain the reason I went to see those movies – because of the auspices involved – despite having ideological objections to “biopics.”  Excluding The Jolson Story, which I heartily enjoyed, but there are exceptions to everything.  And “Jolie’s” singing is magnificent.

I could talk about the dishonesty of movies “Inspired By Actual Events”, cinematic enterprises promoted as real but produced – unapologetically – as fiction.

But the problem may simply be my inability at handling contradictions:

“The events inspiring this movie are real.  After that, we did whatever we wanted.”

There is something troubling about that assertion.  I am always wondering,

“Which part of this movie is real, and which part has been ‘reimagined’ to ‘juice up’ the box office?”

(Paralleling Side Note:  I posed a similar question to our guide Sarhan when we visited the ancient Turkish city of Ephesus, specifically, “Sarhan, what exactly am I looking at?”  Meaning, are these centuries old ruins unearthed from antiquity, or is this an authentic-looking “recreation” for an unwitting public?  An antiquerial Disneyland for tourists.

And if, as is likely the case, it is a little of both, what percentage of it is the actual Ephesus and what percentage is archaeological “reproduction”?   To me, that was an important question.  Who wants to take pictures of two-thousand-year-old ruins they threw up there a couple of years ago?  I mean, “Nice job”, but it’s hardly the genuine article.)

There is something not quite kosher going on.  A movie “Inspired By Actual Events”, reminds me of fast-food hamburgers,

“Inspired By Actual Meat.”

But enough of that foolishness.  Instead, let me, for your skeptical enjoyment, deliver Aaron Sorkin’s in-his-own-words reaction to the critical heat Steve Jobs has been taking, some of .Jobs’s intimate associates angrily proclaiming, 

“This is not the Steve Jobs I knew.  It is only the mean, hyper-dramatic portion.”

And now, without further ado,

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Aaron Sorkin.


AARON SORKIN:  “We have this conversation every year around this time (meaning the “Awards Season” when the “serious” movies are released.)  Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Lincoln, Selma.  Steve Jobs doesn’t fall into the same genre as those films.  It’s not meant to be a dramatic recreation of actual events.  Which isn’t to say it’s fiction.

“I believe the movie announces itself pretty quickly as being impressionistic… I wince a little when I hear ‘artistic license’ because it generally sounds like a dodge – and an excuse for hyping the truth.  I don’t think we employed artistic license.  I think we were just artistic.”


This is not a man from whom I would ever buy a pre-owned automobile.  Nor allow my daughter to go out with.

We follow up with an extraneous though possibly a propos observation: 

Citizen Kane was a thinly veiled biography of William Randolph Hearst, rendered “artistically” by Orson Welles.  The difference is, the movie was called Citizen Kane, not Citizen Hearst.  

I know.  My critique, although highly readable, is fruitless.  Studios will keep making these movies as long as they continue to make money.  And when they do make them, there will always be the concomitant outrage about “the unconscionable betrayal of biographical reality.”

That’s when I started thinking about reality.

(Warning (although not "Bold" and in capitals): The following observation may be ponderous.  It may also be wrong.  Or possibly irrelevantly “off the point.”  But the connection came to mind, and I am passing it along.  Feel free to disagree.  Or simply gag, or roll your eyes, uttering the word “Lightweight!” as you do.)

Consider “reality”, as we understand it.  The way we say something, and then, to underscore its veracity, we add insistently, “It’s true!  Well, I am not entirely sure about that.  And by “that”, I mean, everything we see, believe, experience and remember.

We may try to be truthful, but there is the possibility that, owing to “selective perception” and some tidying “artistic license” of our own, our personal recollections are not indisputably accurate but merely   

“Inspired By Actual Events.” 

It now occurs to me that if our reality cannot stand up to maximum scrutiny,

Maybe we should cut our inaccurate “biopics” a little slack.
They are only doing what we do.


the time.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm rather harder-edged than you are, so I have a rule: I do not watch fiction about real people unless I am prepared to do the research to ascertain their factual history. I did not want to watch MASTERS OF SEX. But I *did* want to see Allison Janney and Beau Bridges in their award-winning episode. So I watched that episode and read the book the series is based on. I formulated this rule because of two movies: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and AGATHA. In the former, Buddy's mother is depicted as obstructing his career; the friends I saw the movie with were outraged on her behalf because in real life she wrote songs with him. In the latter, Agatha Christie is depicted as hatching a plan to murder her husband's mistress during the days she was missing at the time of her divorce, almost certainly because of a nervous breakdown. Her treatment by the press at that time left her emotionally scarred, and granting that she was dead by the time the movie was made, I still thought of it as exploitative and mean.

I would avoid the Steve Jobs movie, except...I've been asked to review it when it comes to London in a few weeks. Fortunately, I've already read not only the biography on which it's based but quite a few other books about Steve Jobs (all as part of paid work, I hasten to add). I think it's safe to say I know more about Steve Jobs than I ever wanted to know.

Aaron Sorkin's approach to "truth" was very well analyzed on THE GOOD WIFE several years ago - S2e14, "Net Worth". Worth noting that in fact his screenplay for THE SOCIAL NETWORK was based on a biography whose adherence to facts has also been severely questioned.

Don't believe what you see at the movies!



Johnny A. said...

If you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you must avoid biopics.