Historians are not Filmmakers

Historical films cannot be 100% accurate….. filmmakers have to entertain as well as inform.  History is often complex, unsettling, even boring.  Historical movies must strike a balance between fact and fiction; finding the proper mix is often the difference between success and failure.  Critical acclaim and ticket sales are no guarantee historians will confirm a film’s accuracy.  Fickle academics will find something to criticize- none are comfortable with a Hollywood production educating the public more effectively.  Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film, ‘Lincoln’ is already in the crosshairs of some leading historians.

Note to historians- some scenes just work.

Note to historians -some scenes just work.

Pulitzer Prize winning Lincoln scholar, Eric Fonerdisapproves of the way emancipation is depicted in the film.  Foner suggests, “Emancipation—like all far-reaching political change—resulted from events at all levels of society, including the efforts of social movements to change public sentiment and of slaves themselves to acquire freedom.”  This makes for a fine book, and Foner’s is one of the best in decades, but a major motion picture covering that much ground?  Enough scholars have praised the picture to validate the work of Spielberg and screen writer Tony Kushner.  Historians doubling as film critics have a clear problem- forget the forest, they only care to see the trees.  They also display a fundamental misunderstanding of the filmmaking process.  Professor Foner really needs to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show….rarely are historical movies this accurate…and enjoyable.

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2 Comments

Filed under Movie Review, News

2 responses to “Historians are not Filmmakers

  1. yubahome

    Some say Spielberg made his mistake listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin.

  2. Point well taken. My sympathy for the irate historians who might hardly be faulted for a idealistic loyalty to accuracy as I’m certain there’s a great deal of sensitivity built up from the complete bastardization of history by Hollywood for over a century. I know I feel similar frustrations when reviewing a film adapted from a book which the logical mind will inform is impossible to transpose with a total fidelity. It’s certainly a torturous form of Sisyphean self-abuse, yet…

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