Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Should 'based on a true story' movies have an obligation to facts?
My wife and I got into an argument on this subject recently. After watching The Social Network and looking into what the real people depicted in the movie thought of the movie, one of them described it as "about 40% accurate." This really upset my wife, because although she didn't love the movie like I did, she felt that the filmmakers had an obligation to not make up what are essentially "lies" about the actual people they were portraying onscreen.
I have always felt that a filmmaker has only an obligation to the audience in the form of making a good movie. The truest of "based on a true story" movies is still a fiction film, so I don't take any scene in the movie as "what actually happened" anyway and only take it on the value of what it means to the movie. My wife contends that a majority of filmgoers believe any "based on a true story" movie wholeheartedly, so if a film is making up 60% of the story (especially when it portrays its lead character as a douchbag), it's a form of slander against the real people.
I agree that your average moviegoer believes "true story" movies without question, but I don't see why that is the problem of the filmmakers. Roger Ebert once said "Artists cannot hold themselves hostage to the possibility that defectives might misuse their work." He was talking about even negative portrayals of the KKK possibly seeming cool to Joe Idiot out there, but the point can be used across the board, I think. Then again, writer Paul Schrader has said he felt a certain responsibility for Taxi Driver supposedly inciting John Hinckley, Jr.'s attempted assassination of President Reagan.
So where does a filmmakers obligation lay when it comes to telling the truth in "based on a true story" film? And do filmmakers have a responsibility in regards to audience response to their work, positive or negative or blissfully ignorant of facts? I don't think so, what do you think?