You will write an analysis (4-5 pages, PROPERLY FORMATTED) of a motion picture based on — or inspired by — a particular event, era, situation, or even individual in American history. Some films will use historical figures as their protagonists or main characters; They Died With Their Boots On, for example, takes an actual Civil War general and Indian fighter as its hero. Other films might feature fictional protagonists (such as the artist, played by Robert Young, who becomes one of Rogers’ Rangers in Northwest Passage) against a background of actual events or battles — or even fuse traits from several real individuals into a “composite” character so as to make a smoother or less confusing story. On occasion, a fictional character – such as “Colonel Tavington” in Mel Gibson’s The Patriot – actually replaces a real person (not depicted in the film) in that person’s historical role!
Using as your historical source not the ghastly Internet (TO REPEAT: DO NOT USE INTERNET HISTORICAL SOURCES), but one or more of the books cited below, or perhaps others (after clearing them with your instructor, of course), you will evaluate the degree of accuracy with which your chosen film depicts its “historical” material. (Your use of the Internet MUST NOT extend beyond the search for books and films, and you must not display any interest whatsoever in the opinions of film critics or other writers on cinematic subjects. It’s your opinion that counts!) Remember that this is not to be a “film review” in any conventional sense. Do not use a novel as a source in evaluating film – even if your chosen film was based on that novel.
Questions to consider include the following: Does the film follow the basic facts? If not, to what degree does it depart from them? If characters bear the names of real people, do these characters resemble their historical counterparts, in appearance (if known), personality and/or action? If the main characters are fictional, does the film seem accurate once we accept these characters’ existence and any interaction they may have with historical individuals? Does the film seem to accurately convey the “atmosphere” of the era in which it is set – and if so, how? – or at least manage to avoid seeming too “modern” in such matters as dialogue and the characters’ attitudes or actions? Is the historical narrative simplified so as to “streamline” the narrative, or simply to add drama? (You should be specific in explaining why something depicted in the film seems accurate or inaccurate, and never assume that your reader is familiar with the film under discussion.)
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Most movies are of course intended primarily to entertain. But you should consider the possible reasons behind specific instances of inaccuracy or fiction – without being too dogmatic in your speculations or assertions! Do the film makers seem to fear that the audience might dislike the main character (or think him trivial, dull, or otherwise undesirable) if history is followed? Is historical reality simply too grim or disgusting to be acceptable entertainment? Does a film (such as a World War II film actually made during the war) have a “message” or propaganda purpose requiring history to be rewritten? Do the facts or historical background seem to have been “softened” to make things more cheerful or “uplifting”? What of the film’s depiction of violence, if any? (You should keep in mind the fact that for decades following the birth of “talkies” Hollywood was discouraged or prohibited from overly explicit depictions of violence as well as sex, and from showing crime or serious moral transgressions going unpunished. Novelist and World War II combat veteran James Jones, employed as a screenwriter for The Longest Day, was outraged when industry censors urged that the film’s depiction of costly Allied landings against heavily fortified, Nazi-defended beaches strive to avoid too many scenes of mass death and thus a “bloodbath” effect.)
Consider the film’s “viewpoint.” Who is the hero/heroine/protagonist/narrator? Does there seem a particular reason for choosing this apparent viewpoint, or selecting the characters which the film follows? Are certain important things (or people) left out of the film, and if so, why might this have happened? Might there be possible justification for certain inaccuracies or “reshaping” of the story — from a dramatic or other angle? Can you argue that the “real story” (assuming we aren’t getting it in the existing movie) would actually make a better film? A worse film? Can a drama’s historical distortions, in some cases, help reveal a greater historical truth?
Please remember that in using a books or books as your historical “check” on the film, your intent is not to simply compare nonfiction book and dramatic (even if fact-based) film. The purpose of each is very different!
Don’t write this as though you were simply “filling in the numbers” by answering specific questions. Produce a smooth analytical essay, fitting things together into a coherent whole. Remember to explain why you are advocating a certain position or point of view on a subject – none of this pure “feelings, oh-oh-oh feelings” nonsense. However, since filmmakers do wish to provoke emotions in their viewers, you should, when relevant, point out how the film makers use dramatic incidents, music, lighting, and “movie magic” in order to achieve this end, being precise in your explanations.
As a general rule, use the PRESENT tense to describe film action and dialogue, reserving the PAST tense for historical reality.