On historical accuracy in movies

Here is an interesting answer in the forum Quora about how accurately (or not) Hollywood movies about WW2 tend to be. (Disclosure: I have close relatives who work behind the scenes decorating movie sets; they take great pains to make the various objects as accurate as possible and also within the budget)

Thomas Sutherland

Answered Apr 30

“Movies Are not documentaries.

That means they are never accurate about anything they depict, not because they deliberate;ly want to lie, but because the very nature of any narrative art, be it a novel or a movie or a theatrical play, is to trigger an emotional response from the audience and maximize it.

“Thus there is conflict, tension, suspense, characters’ growth, and behind all that a story argument that moves the events forward towards a certain end. A movie doesn’t follow the rules of life, but the rules of fiction. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end, it should have an interesting pace and escalating conflict that starts with an inciting incidents, escalates to crisis and ends with a resolution for that crisis. All its characters must be interesting to watch. All its dialogue must be interesting to hear. Life is simply never like this.

“Therefore the good in a movie is summarized good (and maybe even exaggerated and glorified, made heroic), and the evil is summarized evil(concentrated and distilled). The whole thing is designed to trigger strong emotional responses, for that is the core of “entertainment”, not the bona fide presentation of events as they happened. Life, even in its most exciting or most horrible turns, is too boring to be depicted as it is. The historical accuracy is often restricted to the visuals, so that the spell of “suspension of disbelief” is not broken and the entertainment is not spoiled.

“So, if you want accurate knowledge, consult a book. If you want accurate “historical” knowledge, consult several books and documentaries, written by different people with different opinions, and from the points at which they intersect, you might discern a truth. If you want entertainment, you can watch a movie.”

Published in: on September 24, 2017 at 9:09 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For the specific question: “How accurate are Hollywood movie depictions of German soldiers/officers during World War Two?” I’d just say “About as accurate as the depictions of people in any Hollywood movie.”


  2. “Movies Are not documentaries.

    True, but I have seen people write and speak as if they are. And this can be scary. IIRC Regan was reported as confusing movies with real life. Heaven knows what the Orange Cheeto does!

    It would be nice if filmo were vaguely close to reality if they are pretending to be “historical”. Heck, I’d be happy with a disclaimer saying the movie has taken a few liberties with history.

    I am reminded of an historian on a history email list reviewing “Brave Heart”. She listed 105 inaccuracies in the film, and then mentioned those were in the first minute. She may have been a bit picky in spots.

    Another case of a slight inaccuracy in “historical” films is the film “U-5781”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U-571_(film)

    See http://ww2today.com/9th-may-1941-enigma-machine-captured for the original storey.


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