?

Log in

No account? Create an account
it's entertaining. who cares if it's right? - The Villages

hutch0
Date: 2009-01-11 01:20
Subject: it's entertaining. who cares if it's right?
Security: Public
Location:home
Mood:calmcalm
Music:thomas dolby
Those of you who have been here long enough will have been bored witless by my occasional rants in support of the BBC, an organisation I think is more sinned against than sinning, but even I've got to take exception to a recent statement by the BBC's new controller of drama.
Faced with complaints about the historical accuracy of the recent remake of The 39 Steps, Ben Stephenson (for it is he) has come out of his corner fighting and said, "...for me, the purpose of drama is to entertain, not to be slavish about detail. I think that absolute dedication to perfect detail is something for a documentary and not something for a drama.It's different with something like The Diary of Anne Frank, because that's a true story. At the end of the day, the story of The 39 Steps is quite far-fetched. The question is: for the seven million people who watched it, did it feel authentic, did it create a sense of period? The 39 Steps just isn't a realistic story, in the way that Spooks isn't typical 21st century London. We were creating a realistic world within a world - a world of damsels and heroes and a huge amount of excitement. That, for me, is the priority. Did it create that world? It absolutely did.
"That's not to say that we don't work increasingly hard to get everything right. But it's hard to get all the details right when it's a 21st century drama, never mind anything earlier."
Okay, the howlers in The 39 Steps wouldn't have been obvious to the bulk of the people who watched it. There's stuff which might have been more obvious to those of us who had actually read the novel, but that's another conversation.
But what interests me is Ben Stephenson's apparent commitment to `entertainment' over accuracy. So I'd like to suggest a couple of shows. How about 1066, where William The Conqueror defeats King Harold by the crafty use of flamethrowers, assault weapons and amphibious troop carriers? Or The Battle Of Britain, in which the plucky pilots of the RAF use their Harriers to defeat the Luftwaffe? Historically-accurate? No, but who cares? It'd be exciting and entertaining.

What Ben doesn't appear to understand is that, while these are all obviously entertainments, people do pick up little bits of period detail from them. If those details aren't accurate, they slowly build up into an inaccurate picture of the period.
Doesn't matter? Well, let's think about the portrayal of the American West in popular culture. It's only in the past twenty or thirty years that the process of mythologising which began with the dime novels and found its greatest flowering in Hollywood has seen some reverses. (I'm not including academics such as Dee Brown or Evan S Connell here - I'm talking about popular culture)
I had this row some years ago with Stephen King's Polish translator - there's a section in The Dead Zone where Johnny Smith experiences the German invasion of Poland, and it's presented as taking place in a thunderstorm. In reality, the German invasion happened on a gorgeous late-Summer day. My friend - who is Polish and in my opinion ought to have known better - said it was justifiable because the scene captured the spirit of the event. I thought King should have got it right, because his readers trust what he says, and they'll believe it, even if it's wrong.

So, is it important? This is entertainment, right? It's bubblegum and people don't take it seriously, right?
I don't think so. The nature of education today means that all we learn at school is a broad sweep of history - names, dates, events, to be learned by rote. We get the details elsewhere - from further reading and research, if we can be bothered, and from popular culture. Popular culture has to be entertaining in order to stay popular, and for the purposes of entertainment some gnarly factual details may need to be elided or rewritten altogether. But for the bulk of the population, popular culture is their point of contact with history. This stuff all builds up. There will be film-makers in years to come who write pre-1914 dramas and will take the errors in The 39 Steps as gospel. And on and on until the drama becomes history. And history becomes an inconvenient thing academics with no sense of `entertainment' do. The changes of detail may be small for each drama, but they build up, and in the popular imagination they become what actually happened.

And so I have to take exception with Ben Stephenson. If you're making an historical drama you have an obligation to get stuff right. I appreciate the difficulty in finding a period biplane, but seriously, how much more would it have cost not to have it firing on Hannay?

And would it have cost much more to finally film the book properly?
Post A Comment | 10 Comments | | Link






User: sarcobatus
Date: 2009-01-11 04:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"on and on until the drama becomes history"

or mythology.

I agree with you 100% about not sacrificing historical accuracy in story-telling and cinema. This was my big complaint with the movie 300.

Speaking of movies and history, I watched Mongol tonight. Great film, Russian made, outstanding drama. Subtitles. If you haven't seen it yet I highly recommend it.
Reply | Thread | Link



hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-01-11 18:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can understand that the dictates of drama might mean some changes - characters being removed or merged, timelines being contracted, and so on - but where you're using period detail it seems to me you're obliged to get it right.
Okay, maybe I'm making too much of this, but I try to get my stuff right. Thog, who edited The Villages, will tell you just how much nitpicking research I did for that. And I still have a sneaking suspicion I got some things wrong.
I haven't seen 300 or Mongol, I'm afraid, but I've heard very good things about Mongol. 300, not so much.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



jmward14: DuzWriter
User: jmward14
Date: 2009-01-11 07:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:DuzWriter
I think filming THE 39 STEPS properly is a lost cause. But heck, why film it again at all? It was filmed by HITCHCOCK, fer cryin' out loud. It doesn't get better than that. Period.
Of course, I don't understand why Peter Jackson insisted on mangling King Kong either. :-P
Sympathetic hugs,
Jean Marie
Reply | Thread | Link



calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2009-01-11 17:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But the question is, why even call it the 39 steps when it bore little relation to the book? I don't understand why he felt it necessary to mangle a perfectly good thriller of the period in order to make a film out of it...
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-01-11 18:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, it's a `classic' novel and the Beeb does like its classic adaptations. Also - and I didn't see it so I can't comment too closely - I suspect there was just too much of the novel's storyline to call it something else without the copyright lawyers from Buchan's estate tooling up.
But as I said over at your place before Christmas, my sense was that they'd actually remade the Robert Donat and Kenneth More versions rather than filming the book itself.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-01-11 18:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
True enough, and I have a soft spot for the Hitchcock version, as well as the 1959 Ralph Thomas remake. I still think a faithful version of the book is possible, although by now it would probably be redundant.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2009-01-11 11:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Welcome to my world!

But I do have quite a lot of sympathy with Mr Stephenson. In the majority of cases making things authentic wouldn't actually cost any more or make any difference to the entertainment value, it's just that the person making the film doesn't care, or does not knwo the right people and respect what others say with regards to clothing or weapons or suchlike.

Reply | Thread | Link



hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-01-11 18:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I did think of you when I read the Telegraph article.
It did seem to me rather a daft thing for Ben Stephenson to say; he probably wouldn't countenance a flotilla of Viking longships rowing up the Thames in Spooks, but it'd certainly be exciting and entertaining.
He makes the distinction between drama and documentary, but to my mind you need to be just as accurate in drama as in documentary. The 39 Steps may be a drama and full of derring-do and stuff, but it's set in a specific time which needs to be accurately rendered. If he says accuracy doesn't matter so much so long as the drama's entertaining, the film-makers might as well have had Hannay strafed by a Messerschmidt.
I seem to recall a much bigger uproar a few years ago over U-571, the movie about the capture of the Enigma machine, which totally fictionalised a real-life incident and made it seem as though it was an American operation when it was in fact a Royal Navy one. It's a perfectly enjoyable film - and indeed the Royal Naval officer who led the team from HMS Bulldog which captured the Enigma from U-110 came out in its favour, adding it would never have been made at all without the story being Americanised - but at the time I did wonder how many people watching it in Des Moines and New York (and maybe even in London) accepted it as the truth.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2009-01-11 19:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The Braveheart effect, and regarding U-571- I expect 50% of the audience didn't care that it had any relevance to real life, 45% thought the Americans did it in real life, and 5% went "Eh? I thought that was us/ the brits that captured that sub?"
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-01-11 23:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You mean there were factual errors in Braveheart? I'm shocked. *clutches chest theatrically*
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



browse
the villages
the links
December 2013
the promo