Truth in movies

I’m not looking for documentaries in my biopics.

American-Sniper-2014If you’re a big movie fan, you’ve noticed the wealth of movies that based on real-life events, including Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, and Wild.

Someone named Penelope Puddlisms wrote: “I read your interesting review about the Selma movie and the issue about its accuracy. It makes me wonder why anyone would risk fudging even a small bit of the facts when every other aspect tries so painfully hard to be carefully spot on and provide a documentary feel. This happens in lots of similar movies.”

That is a reasonable question. One could ask “why” of the novelist who fictionalizes real events. A lot of the real things that happen are not very dramatic. Movies often combine characters, and tighten time frames, because the absolute, unedited factual events are often BORING.

Of course, the further from the present one is, or events that took place in remote locations, not documented by camera. Inevitably, one has to extrapolate dialogue, at least.

Beyond that, and I’m neither a novelist nor a filmmaker, I suppose, it is to make a greater point about the situation.

For example, in American Sniper, a movie I have not seen, Chris Hedges writes:

Enter The Butcher—a fictional Iraqi character created for the film. Here we get the most evil of the evildoers. He is dressed in a long black leather jacket and dispatches his victims with an electric drill. He mutilates children—we see a child’s arm he amputated. A local sheik offers to betray The Butcher for $100,000. The Butcher kills the sheik. He murders the sheik’s small son in front of his mother with his electric drill. The Butcher shouts: “You talk to them, you die with them.”

I surmise, and I’m just spitballing here, that by making the bad guy more villainous, it makes the killing of “savage, despicable evil” more justifiable, even palatable.

The Imitation Game, which I liked quite a bit, nevertheless took great liberties with many characters, as you can read in Slate. For instance:

[Christopher] Hodges [author of the book Alan Turing: The Enigma] paints Turing as shy, eccentric, and impatient with irrationality, but Cumberbatch’s narcissistic, detached Alan has more in common with the actor’s title character in Sherlock than with the Turing of Hodges’ biography. One of Turing’s colleagues at Bletchley Park later recalled him as “a very easily approachable man” and said “we were very very fond of him”; none of this is reflected in the film.

Why the character alteration? Perhaps because it made a more interesting story, more of a contrast with some of the other participants.

Time magazine analyzed Big Eyes, another film I appreciated. While some parts were deemed as true:

In the film, next to nobody is allowed in the Keane house for fear that they will discover Margaret’s studio and therefore the Keane secret. Though it is true that nobody—including Margaret’s daughter and their staff—was allowed in Margaret’s studio, Walter Keane would invite socialites and celebrities to their home.

I surmise that the fiction made her seem even more isolated, since “Margaret rarely met these celebs since she was painting 16 hours per day. Even when Walter left the house, he would call Margaret every hour to ensure that she hadn’t left.”

Entertainment Weekly fact-checked Theory of Everything. Stephen Hawking deemed the movie about his life with his ex-wife, “broadly true.” I liked it, but maybe if it were less true to its source, it might have been a more exciting film.

I’m not looking for documentaries in my biopics. It may be useful to check to see how much the story varies from the facts, but I certainly never felt the need to do so before seeing any film, only after the fact.


I’m so glad I saw Big Eyes before Amy Adams won the Golden Globe as best Lead Actress in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical.

bigeyesThe movie Big Eyes could have been called Big Lie, for that’s what Walter and Margaret Keane shared. The paintings of children with eyes disproportionally huge peepers were painted by Margaret (Amy Adams), but Walter (Christoph Waltz) was superior at schmoozing and promoting; surely him taking credit for her paintings would be OK, wouldn’t it? He liked telling the story of his time painting in Paris, so he could chat up the press about his wife’s art, even if he claimed them as his own.

I’ve been fascinated by the effect of the lie, especially since I read the book Lying by Sissela Bok some years ago. Either the lie eats away at you, or it overtakes you, as the lie becomes the new reality. That’s what happens in Big Eyes.

I’m so glad I saw this movie before Amy Adams won the Golden Globe as Best Lead Actress in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical. I really liked the performance, but it’s subtle. Anyone expecting scene-chewing will be disappointed.

Big Eyes is a comedy or musical? Music DOES play a part in that the Cal Tjader group is playing at the hungry i nightclub where Walter initially hawks the paintings. Vince Guaraldi, the pianist/composer most associated with the Charlie Brown music, played with Tjader’s group for a time.

The real situation comedy comes at the end, in the courtroom scene, though the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair narrative was darkly funny, I suppose, with Terence Stamp as a New York City art critic; now HE can chew scenery.

I’ve seen Amy Adams in about a dozen films, from The Muppets to American Hustle. But I’d never seen Christoph Waltz, even though he was also in a Muppets film, plus more serious fare, such as Django Unchained. He’s very good here as, initially, a very sweet and charming guy.

Some guy in my row in the theater said afterward, “That was a Tim Burton film?” It wasn’t particularly Burtonesque, except for one scene, teased in the trailer. This is not a BIG film, telling an epic narrative, but as one critic noted, an “entertaining take on a pop culture footnote.”

One of the negative reviews, by Rick Kisonak, notes: “It suggests Margaret was a browbeaten victim of her husband’s greed while making it clear she was actually a willing participant in the ruse.” I think the critic, and he’s not the only one, missed the point about how subtle manipulation can take place in relationships. He’s also putting post-feminist values in a pre-feminism situation.

Interesting how religion plays a role in Margaret’s narrative, at two different points, to very different results.

Last observation: the story is based on real events. Those paintings of kids with big eyes REALLY creeped me out when I was a child, and they seemed to be EVERYWHERE, part of the real Walter’s marketing genius.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial