First off, for those who don’t know me, I am not, nor have ever been, a screenwriter. What I have learned from Robert Avrech, who has won an Emmy (meaning he’s a pretty good screenwriter), is that it is hard work, and opposite to what many may think, nothing like writing a book.
When I see a TV series or movie that is historically dead-on, I really appreciate the efforts of both the screenwriters and those doing the research for the screenwriters. I am rather disdainful towards those movies that are “inspired” by true events. What exactly does that mean? Their bending the truth a little? Or a lot? We’ve all seen them and to tell you the truth I can’t think of any off hand to link because they are….forgettable.
OK, since I think I should mention at least one, here it is.
Plus I believe the writers and producers owe it to history to tell the story right. History, presented right or wrong, is educating theater-goers. And that includes delving into alternate history. I have previously mentioned watching the Amazon series Man in the High Castle. It’s an alternative history; a history that fortunately did not happen where the Axis powers won and the United States is divided between the Japanese (on the West Coast) and Nazis (on the East Coast). True to streaming I have “binge watched” the first season. The research they did even into small details is impressive. Personalities and historical facts that, for a “but for“, could have had an alternative ending.
Another series I liked was Mad Men. It’s a series about some Madison Avenue ad executives from 1960 to 1969. Not only did they get the facts right, but the culture, and how it changed in that decade. This scene from Mad Men blew me away, and resurrected a memory long forgotten. Up through the early 60s, people really did leave trash like this. They smoked like fiends, and had 2 Martini lunches. If you want to get a feeling for that decade, this is a series to watch. Only 1 mistake that I can remember, being somewhat of a gear head, they showed one car that wasn’t introduced until 2-3 years after this scene was portraying.
Another great movie was Flyboys. It’s about the American Lafayette Escadrille, those Americans who volunteered to fly for the French before America’s entry in the war. One or 2 characters is a composite, but there are no fictional characters. From the training to the tactics, I think it was pretty accurate. And yes, the squadron actually had a lion as the mascot.
Can’t finish this without mentioning We Are Marshall, about what was, and remains, the worst sports disaster in American History. Virtually the entire Marshall University football team was killed in an airplane accident. Like Flyboys 1 or 2 characters was a composite.
I can speak about this with some personal experience. I was very close to my aunt and uncle. I used to think nothing of driving the 8 hours over the mountains from Virginia to visit them for a weekend. About a week before the accident, my uncle took me to see a game of Marshall vs Kent State. That alone gave me an eerie feeling, given the recent tragedy at Kent State.
But then, a couple of weeks later, to realize that virtually every Marshall player I saw on that field was gone…
Some civic leaders, doctors and lawyers, Marshall supporters were also on that plane. Just about everybody in Huntington knew someone on that plane, or knew of someone who lost a loved one.
Huntington, WV had a pall over it for some time.
The movie captured all of that.
I’d like to say that the movies that play fast and loose with history should be ignored, but we have to see them for ourselves first. Those who do make the effort for historical accuracy should be applauded.