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February 09, 2000 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2000-02-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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A RTS nTe Micigan Daiy - Wenesay, 1eruary 9 ,2000 -
'Art e spreend t to reel tuh nHollyood

- 11

Los Angeles Times
In the current movie "The Hurri-
cane," De-zel Washington plays
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a real-
* ife boxer who is hounded for most
of his life and finally jailed by an
obsessed cep. Dan Hedaya plays the
policeman as a malevolent force, an
unyielding racist on a mission. But
in real life, no such person existed.
In "Boys Don't Cry," a young
woman who had been living as a
man is killed in a farmhouse along
with another woman. In real life,
three people died that New Year's
Eve, the third victim a black man
'vho never appears in the movie.
Another woman shown at the farm-
house denies having been there. She
has filed a Lawsuit claiming that the
movie defames her and invades her
In "The Insider," the highly
praised story of a tobacco executive
who stood up to the Brown &
Williamson Tobacco Corp., a heroic
Sroducer for "60 Minutes" domi-
ates the tobacco story, manipulates
the legal system and spoon-feeds
scoops to the Wall Street Journal. In
real life, the newspaper won a
Pulitzer Prize' for its out-in-front
-overage of the story, and the real-
life tobacco executive, as well as
athers, say the movie greatly exag-
gerates the producer's role.
All three movies are among the
most highly regarded films of the
fast year, likely Oscar contenders
(hat have brought prestige to their
respective studios for their high-
minded grappling with serious
issues. Like other true-life movies of
recent years, they have come under
fire for the'liberties they take with
A movie comes out based on a
real and highly publicized event, and
reporters who covered the event
vrite stories debating its accuracy;
participants turn up to say they've
been wronged; and ideologues on
the right or ;eft embrace or vilify the
film as propaganda, while other
moviegoers merely shrug and sniff.
'It's only a movie."
The accuracy issue is looming
larger than usual of late, in part
because so many recent films have
dealt with emotionally charged, true
vents. The debate centers on funda-
ental questions about the limits of
artistic license, the social obliga-
tions of film and the importance of

ters or events are, of course,
released all the time. Sometimes, as
in David Lynch's "The Straight
Story" or the upcoming Julia
Roberts movie "Erin Brockovich"
- both based on obscure events -
it hardly matters what inspired the
film. We experience it simply as a
Similarly, sometimes we can
view as fiction movies that are
based on well-known events if the
events happened far enough in the
past. Wyatt Earp's gunfight at the
OK Corral and Eliot Ness' Prohibi-
tion-era battles with Al Capone
have passed into legend. Our reac-
tion to movies based on these
events - from John Ford's 1946
classic "My Darling Clementine"
to 1994's "Wyatt Earp" and 1987's
"The Untouchables" - is uncom-
plicated by qualms over accuracy,
even when we know or suspect that
the stories have been embellished.
But other movies command our
attention by announcing them-
selves as true. With "The Insider"
or "The Hurricane" or past films
such as "JFK" or "All the Presi-
dent's Men," everyone knows the
story is basedonactual events,
even if we don't know or remember
much about what really happened.
Because these were important
events, or because they received so
much media attention, we might
even be emotionally vested.
This is why the uproar is so loud
when inconsistencies with facts are
Should anyone wonder why Hol-
lvwood regularly would subiect

itself to the debate and criticism
fact-based movies bring, the
answer might have been on display
at the recent Golden Globe awards.
In a year when the most popular
movie was a glorified cartoon c -
fi fantasy that came with a report-
ed $3 billion in licensing tie-ins,
the nominated movies were oh-so
earnest andworthy. No "Star Wars"
prequels here. No cyberpunk head
games ("The Matrix"). No scary
ghost stories, no matter how well-
told ("The Sixth Sense").
With major awards going to both
"Hurricane" and "Boys," as well as
to an HBO bio-pic about black
actress Dorothy Dandridge, the
show became a celebration of mar-
On award night - any award
night - Hollywood wants to be
taken, and to take itself, quite seri-
Perhaps this was mere vanity.
Perhaps the movies really don't
mean that much at all. And maybe
Hollywood's need to appear serious
and important obscures the actual
quality of the films in question.
Aside from their social relevance
and the air of importance that
attends them, are these really
among the year's most accom-
plished films?
Maybe it doesn't matter Maybe,
at this time of year especially, all
that matters is how the movies
make us feel -- not only about the
worlds depicted but also about our-
selves. And maybe it matters not at
all whether the feelings are based
on truth or fiction.

Courtesy 01 F-ox Searchlight Pictures
Peter Sarsgaard, Hilary Swank and Brendon Sexton ill star as John Lotter, Brandon Teena and Tom Nissen In Kimberely Pierce's
"Boys Don't Cry." With the aid of Nissen, Lotter shot Teena to death in a Nebraska farmhouse on New'Year's Eve, 1993.

factuality in art.
No matter how contentious the
issue gets, however, filmmakers
keep making fact-based films, and
that's not just because they lack
imagination. These are the movies
that win awards. They have built-in
cachet. A more personal film might
speak truer of society, but who can
dispute that "The Hurricane" mat-
ters? Movies like this validate Hol-
lywood's sense of itself.
In defending themselves from
attack, the producers of "The Hurri-
cane" point out that they screened it
at the White House, and when it was
shown at the United Nations people
stood up to applaud. Their movie is
important, they seem to be saving. It
moves people. It's petty to quibble
over the facts.
Kimberly Peirce, who directed
and co-wrote "Boys Don't Cry,"
agrees that factual accuracy never
should be the goal of art. "It's
important to distinguish between the
facts and the truth," she said in an
"I've always thought that the facts
were in service to the truth. You can
change facts, you can change char-
acters, you can change everything,
in search of the basic truth."

But what, one may ask, is the
artist's obligation to history, to truth
that can be verified?
"Boys," like "Hurricane," "The
Insider" and many other movies
based on fact, deal with real-world
issues in a way that suggests the
filmmakers take social responsibili-
ties seriously.
"The Hurricane" and "Boys Don't
Cry," in particular, derive part of
their power from the iconic force of
their protagonists - a black man
wrongly imprisoned for murder and
a woman persecuted and killed for
being different. But the films also
provoke tears and outrage for anoth-
er reason - our awareness that
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Bran-
don Teena endured these injustices.
Given the emotions the movies
generate and the political weight
they carry, quite apart from whatev-
er merit they might have as works of
drama, viewers might understand-
ably feel cheated to learn that a
story element that particularly
affected them was fabricated.
And what of the real-life partici-
pants? Might they not have even
more reason to feel aggrieved?
When "The Insider," came out in
November, CBS newsman Mike

Wallace protested mightily - with-
out having seen the film - that the
movie misrepresented him. Brown &
Williamson, predictably, denounced
the movie as false. Among the
things the company took issue with
is the movie's depiction of the com-
pany waging a, fear campaign
against its former executive that
included death threats.
"The Insider" has failed to ignite
much enthusiasm with the ticket-
buying public, but it has been lav-
ishly praised by reviewers for its
serious - some would say self-
important - examination of corpo-
rate venality and cowardice. But the
debate over its accuracy has
received almost as much attention as
the hosannas.
But comments concerning the way
movies "Hollywood-ize" events
raise another issue: Many people
were less disturbed that the changes
in "The Hurricane" fictionalized the
story than they were that they
cheapened it. They found the made-
up characters one-dimensional and
the plot concoctions contrived. They
had no problem with artistic license;
they just preferred that it be used
Movies based on real-life charac-

Courtesy of Beacon Communications Cora
Denzel Washington plays real life boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in "The Hurricane."'

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