So, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the artistic license authors/producers/directors take with the truth when it comes to portraying history, and I really want to write a couple thoughtful entries about the subject.
First, one of my latest passions comes to mind, Public Enemies
. This is going to get a couple essays of its own, which I'll post in public_enemies1
. Here's a subject where the director/writer, Michael Mann, was obsessive about casting people who looked like the actual historical figures, who wanted to use the actual places in filming many of the key scenes, but who took the order of events and just screwed with them in order to make Dillinger's death the climax of the action. Was that important? Maybe not.
But maybe it was.
While I was sick I got interested in doing another William Evans adventure, moving him from Doc Holliday's death in 1887 to 1888 London during the Jack the Ripper killings. I decided to have him meet and interact with Inspector Frederick Abberline, Johnny Depp's character from the movie From Hell
. So I started doing a lot of Ripper research, and found that little or nothing about the character in the movie matches the real life man. (For one thing, Abberline lived to the ripe old age of 86, and the final scene in the movie is Depp's character dying of a drug overdose.)
So, why even use the real man's name if you're going to change so much? When is screwing with the facts outrageous, and what makes it so? Is it okay, for instance, for Sam Cowley (in Public Enemies
) to die months too soon, but ridiculous for Abberline to die decades early? Sam ends up playing *no role* in Dillinger's death, because of having him (and Baby Face Nelson) die beforehand. And Abberline doesn't get to spend 12 years as a Pinkerton man, after retiring with 80-some decorations from Scotland Yard.
All of this is swimming in my brain mostly because we're on the verge of the 50th anniversary of the Clutter family killing in Kansas, one of the most famous murders in American history and the subject of one of my all-time favorite books, In Cold Blood
. When Truman Capote wrote ICB
, he invented the historical narrative, a new art form. And he spent years researching the thing, although he certainly took some literary license. The book is a masterpiece. But it's still controversial to this day, because of the way the story was told.
Is a documentary-style program so much more true than historical fiction? And aren't the two sliding closer and closer together all the time? Hey, I watch the History Channel all the time, and that recent doc on death masks was just this side of sensationalized.
The whole subject fascinates me, especially since right now I'm writing these stories about a fictional character interacting with historical characters who are portrayed by actors in movies that fictionalize them. It's mind-boggling. When I write a PE
story and try to keep to movie canon while reconciling the action to real life events, I start to think the genre needs its own term. 'Fanfic' just doesn't cut it.
More to come. (Spending three hours on my event/program budgets must have cleansed my palate, but my brain needs a break.)