Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply

A look at the interplay of historical accuracy and authenticity with the realities of today.

Advertisements

I’m in one of those moods ever since I saw Wonder Woman last week and did two posts on it, so we might as well talk about historicity in films again while I’m on a role.

When it comes to film making (and art in general), historical accuracy is often fighting an uphill battle against the workings of the narrative. I’m actually quite glad that I have degrees in both History and English as historical films often fight an inner battle over my enjoyment of the craft and the implications of sacrificing truth on the alter of the three-act structure.

I admit that I have muddled the terms in the past, especially when talking to people without getting my thoughts sorted at first, but historical accuracy and historical authenticity are really two different things that apply in different situations. Getting them right might help both critics looking at these films and general audiences in what to look for in a film. Pretentious to think this will have any influence on anything, sure, but self-deprecation aside:

Historical accuracy is a term that I prefer to use, when I remember to order my thoughts first of course, on films that are directly based on a true story or depict historical events. In a film that generally means that the story is presented as it happened, that the people behave correctly, and so on. Something that is very much fact based and can be proven by historical records. If your movie (or any form of media in that regard) gets this wrong, you immediately fail because you are perpetuating lies or spreading them. Portraying “the truth” is a tricky business as well, as there really is no such thing as a singular truth, only different narratives of which a majority of people agree in their interpretation and framing of. In regards to how far you can bend the truth to service the bigger picture and narrative cohesion in service of, I’m more forgiving of this than others, I often find (shocking, I know) because I believe this applies to the big picture much more than the small one. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a good example of a film so accurate to history that it becomes a slog to sit through for a casual audience. It’s a great piece of art, but I can see where it may overreach for a general audience. Of course, in the case of the small picture this can often lead to a snowballing effect where the historicity suffers a death of a thousand cuts. Best is to let reality speak for itself and make minimal changes.   Depending on the story you wish to tell, I will often prefer to fictionalize the story as is. This perfectly leads into:

Historical authenticity is something that will go hand-in-hand with historical accuracy when you are portraying the actual history on film and are trying to be as faithful to the truth as you can. When working with a fictionalized story, it is of the utmost importance to at least get the framing right. This is something that makes, for instance, The Last Samurai very interesting to look at. Based on real events, it does fail to portray the actual history, but at the same time manages to immerse you in the world and the end of an era that the samurai represent when the last of them die out. This is not accurate to actual history, but will at least convey the feelings and values of the era. Had the film fictionalized more events and tightened its focus a bit more, I believe there would be less to criticize. Authenticity can range from portraying the values of the era, to general politics and events happening in the background which inform the actual events. It’s what differentiates history from historical fiction.  Continue reading “Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply”

How To Fix The Wonder Woman Script

A script rewrite for the new Woman Woman movie adding historical credibility and grey morality.

Spent a good long afternoon this week critiquing Wonder Woman and pointing out historical inaccuracies. Now it’s time to fix the movie without becoming “too dark” for all the precious comic fans and general audiences who can’t stand a war movie about trenches and poison gas to be too dark. With that said, let’s begin.

In this version we will keep the main story as is, because it actually works. We will, however, change some of the elements: Wonder Woman goes to Europe to fight Ares. Let’s go from there.

Act 1:
Pretty much as is in the movie. With the character being as unknown in much of the world in terms of actual characterization rather than brand recognition we need to set up the Amazons.

Once Trevor moves into the story, things change. Since the German Navy, as portrayed in the movie, cannot be the ones that hunted Trevor across the Mediterranean and Atlantic (the fleet was boxed in after Jutland in its native harbors and the foreign squadrons were destroyed) we will have to change the location of Themiskyra into the Mediterranean and change the ships used to either Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian. Same difference since both were part of the Middle/Central Powers. This immediately broadens the conflict and makes the villains of the piece much more diverse than simply being the Germans.

The main villain of the piece is also changed from Erich Ludendorff to Hans von Hammer, aka Enemy Ace. An anti-hero in the comics, he serves an army colonel in this version responsible for weapons development. If you need Ludendorff in this have him be von Hammer’s superior/benefactor. He can still work with Doctor Poison, but it places some distance between real historical characters and superhero antics.

Wonder Woman and Trevor still make their way to London and the story continues as is, but in London we meet more members of the Entente, with possible cameos by Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister Lloyd George, and maybe General Blackjack Pershing as Trevor’s superiors.
Trevor delivers the plans, but many see no reason to continue the mission. The war is almost won after all, there is a rebellion in Germany. Social-democrats and sailors are mutinying. There are talks of abdication of the Kaiser and the proclamation of a German republic as per the insistance of President Woodrow Wilson that the Entente would only open peace talks with a German democracy. (In real life all of these actions took days so there is some wiggle room to fit in the story of the film as it takes place over the course of half a week tops). Queue talks about hypocracy for democracy being a necessity when half the Entente are empires and kingdoms.

While in London we see the effects war has had on the public and the returning veterans. The movie as is was a bit too studio-backlot-y in its depiction. Too few amputees and maimed victims running around. Wonder Woman and Trevor still put together their team and move on.

Act 2:
Enemy Ace and Doctor Poison get the stand-down order from General Ludendorff who has recommended an armistice to the government and currently he and Field Marshall von Hindenburg are waiting for the response from Wilhelm II in regards to abdication and the future of the country. They are pretty much resigned and as much as they want to win, it is pretty much impossible now. No supplies, no men, no time, a rebellion behind the lines, the end of the empire has come. Enemy Ace and Doctor Poison, fervent imperialists and patriots in this version, believe otherwise and manage to create the new version of the gas, going “rogue”. The quotation marks are necessary in this case because even while the armistice is hammered out, the fighting does continue. Both sides want to be in an advantageous bargaining position. Ludendorff and von Hindenburg don’t encourage their actions but also don’t condone them. After all, all they need is a demonstration to dangle over the enemy.

Wonder Woman and team continue their mission through France on their way to the border and after von Hammer and Doctor Poison. They see the horrors of the war as in the movie, but we also see the conditions of the troops in the trenches much more detailed, rather than a simple line of “been here for a year”. We see Brits, ANZAC, French, American, and especially colonial troops from Africa, India and around the globe. They are all fighting over centimeters on the ground.
It would, of course, be more poignant to show longer periods in the war, but for the sake of that precious PG-13 and the general audience we must remain with the Disneyland version. Still, we make it as graphic and as hopeless as we can get away with. The rest of the act continues unchanged even until we come to the castle.

In the castle, the changes made include the interaction Wonder Woman has with Ludendorff, in this version Enemy Ace. Hans von Hammer is less of a jerk than Danny Huston’s caricature of Ludendorff, an aristocrat who sees his country disappearing in-front of him. A former fighter ace, he saw dozens of comrades shot down, the glory disappear from the battlefield. For good measure he talks about the glory of the war of old and laments that he was too young to witness it himself. Wonder Woman now has little doubts that he is Ares, the God of War.

The gas rounds are fired into the freed village as Entente troops are moving on, obviously wanting to move onto the nearby castle where von Hammer, Doctor Poison, and a bunch of German VIPs are still hanging out. So the order is giving to shell the area. A few civilian casualties don’t really matter after all. The reaction from Wonder Woman is still the same after, in this version, she managed to actually save a few dozen people, though hardly all or even a majority between the town’s population and an entire battalion of troops. She is pissed that Trevor stopped her from killing von Hammer and Doctor Poison. In this version though, Trevor is actually able to somewhat seduce Doctor Poison, getting his hands on the new gas formula. He doesn’t like the idea of this new gas or other super weapon Poison has been dreaming up, but better both sides have it than simply one. Wonder Woman is disgusted from finding this out and after seeing the hundreds of dead in the village. even though she managed to save a few dozen, going after von Hammer and Doctor Poison.

Act 3:
The scene on the airfield. Wonder Woman is thoroughly pissed and curb-stomps von Hammer in his signature plane and also kills Doctor Poison for good measure. They are mass murderers, they don’t deserve better. If you really want, you can give them a motif rant, but at this point it’s pretty clear where they stand. They consider themselves soldiers in a war to defend their fatherland. And yet, the empire they tried to save is gone because it didn’t deserve to live at all after all the killing and maiming that’s been going on. Wonder Woman is shocked that the fighting in the distance continues as the two main villains lay dying. Not Ares after all.
Trevor still sacrifices himself to stop the bomber in this version, he needs to redeem himself. For good measure he takes the formula he stole from Doctor Poison with him. It’s a bittersweet situation. (Making it von Hammer also allows for some parallels in this act with him and Trevor as opposites: flying aces and patriots with questionable morals stuck in a bad situation). In the last moment Wonder Woman can save him though.

We cut to Versailles a bit of a year later. Germany, defeated, signs the treaty ending the war with the Entente. Wonder Woman sees it a bit clearer now for all the talk of Ares. She looks around and sees the faces of the people on both sides. No one is really happy with it. Some say its too lenient, like Ferdinand Foch. Some say its too hard, like John Maynard Keynes. This is no peace. This is an armistice for twenty years.
In the end, her mother had been right. Ares was dead. And yet he lived on in the hearts of everyone. If anything, the bloodshed of the 20th century that had happened and was still to come might as well lead to a new god of war coming along from all the sacrifices made in his name.
Wonder Woman retires from the world, but there are changes for the good. Civilians have lived, Trevor lives and is a better man for it, as is the team. A superhero cannot change a world that hasn’t learned its lesson yet. But a few good men and women remain. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

Wonder Woman: Review – The Historian’s Perspective

Wonder Woman is a great superhero film battling with a terrible disservice to the First World War

I spent a good hour after I came out of Wonder Woman thinking about how I would begin this review. As a history grad student with focus on the first world war and as a fan of comic book superheroes, this is probably the hardest film to process my thoughts on since Captain America: The First Avenger. I wanted to like this film a lot, partially because I didn’t want to waste more money on a mediocre or bad superhero film, and partially because I didn’t want the first serious effort behind a female superhero film to become another bomb. Much was riding on this film. Did they pull it off?

Cautious yes.

In many ways my thoughts mirror those about The First Avenger. But where Captain America faltered to merge superheroes and World War 2, Wonder Woman surpassed my expectations. Yet both are terribly distorted views on their respective world wars. And yet this managed to pull it off.  Continue reading “Wonder Woman: Review – The Historian’s Perspective”

Chapter 11: Myths and Lessons

The story concludes in the… hmm, conclusion. #GreatestWordsmithOfTheCentury

And so comes the conclusion to this little experiment of mine. A free novella published over the course of eleven weeks. I’ll get more into this in a follow-up post, but suffice it to say I want to thank everyone who has stuck with me so far. The have surpassed a thousand hits on all the chapters combined last week and I couldn’t be happier. Please enjoy the final chapter of the book now and remember: a share and a like is all that I ask for (and a tv tropes page, but no pressure there…).

Chapter 11: Myths And Lessons

After our long, but hopefully not long-winded, look at the real, uncensored history of Prometheus, we have now reached the point of where we should ask ourselves for the final time this one important question which I asked at the beginning of this feed: Did Prometheus have a significant impact on history and why was its story quickly mythologized?

Before answering the first part of the question, based on the information presented in the previous chapters, I want to present a final piece of evidence in the form of the main news feeds of the most popular network uplink in the Solar system on the day of Prometheus’ launch and its retirement:

2172 2184
Prometheus Launch Prometheus Decommissioning
First Contact Centennial Celebrations MoJo Vid Star Power Couple No More
Elections in Armstrong City: Mayoral Race Close Second Spring Graffiti on Vaude Embassy
Ceres Strikes Continue Recession on Io Hits Lockheed-Douglas Hard
Ripper 2.0 Killer Apprehended on Mars Eridanus II Legalizes Indigenous Animal Hunt
Android Rights Marches Reach Jovian Moons Ganymede Ban On Android Adoption Struck Down

As we can see, while the ship and its mission made headlines on both occasions, Prometheus was not the only thing on people’s mind even back then. Both launch and decommissioning were big headlines in all major and minor feeds yet they were not the only news. Earther feeds also talked about the centennial celebrations of First Contact, Lunar feeds the mayoral elections in the capital, Ceres the union strikes after the terrible docking fire the previous week, Mars finally caught its serial killer after five terrifying years of slaughter, androids were fighting for their rights when the Jovian authorities didn’t want to recognize them as people. Prometheus was important, but not of a singular nature. So you might wonder if anything changed after the ship and crew returned from a 12-year-long mission of historical proportions as heroes of the Terran Alliance, having helped shaped a golden era in our history. Again, the ship made headlines, but now, with an ever expanding Terran Alliance, there were still other concerns. Celebrity breakups, racist attacks, economic news, civil rights unrests. And there is our pattern: society, entertainment, economics. Terran nature in a nutshell.  Continue reading “Chapter 11: Myths and Lessons”

Legends of Tomorrow Nazis Okay, Captain America Nazis Not Okay?

Nazis and stupid monsters showed up in both but why does Legends of Tomorrow succeed where Captain America failed?

Yesterday the second episode of Legend of Tomorrow’s second season aired and I found myself strangely okay with their alternate WW2 setting. The episode “Justice Society of America” features just that: the Legends teaming up with the Justice Society to stop an evil Nazi nobleman and capture a magic amulet that may or may not be part of the Spear of Destiny. Easy peasy.

It seemed strange to me that I would be okay with this version of portraying WW2 instead of the Captain America: The First Avengers version, but the more I got to think of it, the more it seemed just so simple. Captain America’s version of WW2 and the Nazis bothered me mainly because they had taken so many steps to removing the Nazis from the film and replacing them with Hydra that it just seemed insulting to me, like a painstakingly big marketing push to get foreigners to watch America indulge in another Greatest Generation wankfest. To me the biggest problem were things like “Red Skull was kicked out of the Nazis for being too evil” or “fully integrated US Army with three token black people in the background” or “Nazi salutes are so out of fashioned, here’s the handglider salute”. Another element was tone where most of the film was so cartoonish that I couldn’t take their attempts at drama seriously. Historical inaccuracy I can, under certain circumstances, abide by, but it also felt highly inauthentic to me.

With this episode and Legends of Tomorrow’s previous episodes historical inaccuracy shows up as it has before, but the added element of time travel and changing the past, coupled with high amounts of historical authenticity, do help. Its small elements like casual racism and sexism on display, like Hourman not taking Sara seriously because she’s a woman, go a long way to help ground the series in the time period, regardless of the inaccuracies, which have a blank check through time travel shenanigans anyway and help suspend your disbelief. The fact that Reverse-Flash is still trying to change history for some reason goes a long way to somewhat sustain this historian.

The tone of Legends of Tomorrow also helps: despite its occasional goofiness in certain episodes, the show does now when to play it serious for stretches and outside of a couple of jokes the episode never winks at the camera, even when the Nazi supermonster roams around. There is talk of consequences, dying in battle, doing ones duty, to the point that I find Commander Steel more compelling in two short scenes than Captain America in his entire first movie. The fact that they are fighting the actual Wehrmacht in covert ops does certainly help to ground this in the actual time period and a secret special ops team is more believable than a propaganda mascot fighting a secret war against Wolfenstein enemies.

Historical accuracy is an important element in fiction dealing with real events since I believe media reception and reappraisal are important parts of one coming to terms with parts of ones own and other peoples history because of the wide range of films and television. Would I have preferred a version of this where everything is period accurate and Wehrmacht soldiers didn’t do the Nazi salute until late 1944? Of course I would, but if I can at least get some authenticity in my World War 2 story I will take that over trying to disney- and cartoonify the era.

Academic Writing Is Boring – Let’s Change That

Let’s get right into it and not mention that I’ve been absent for two months, shall we?

Okay, let’s do mention it because it’s the subject of this blog post: academic writing. Recently, I finished up my Bachelor’s degree, which included two oral exams and one written thesis, mine having been in History. The subject of the paper was “Influences of the Jewish Settlement on the Ottoman Economy of the Late 19th Century”. Now the thesis turned out rather well I thought, as did everyone who corrected it and looked it over before I handed it in. The right mix of information and actually reading well. Turns out the actual evaluators didn’t think so. Oh well, that’s not what I’m here to bitch about since I do actually agree with what they wrote in their assessment. I still managed to graduate with a good grade average and the thesis is a minor blotch on the transcript so no real harm done. But that does bring me to what went through my head when I read the assessment and whenever I write a paper:

Screw this. Academic writing is boring, nobody would actually want to read this. THIS, this right here is why people think history is boring, why studying is boring. FUCK THIS.

38182bc

Continue reading “Academic Writing Is Boring – Let’s Change That”

Coming To Terms With Captain America

Captain America: the struggle between character and caricature.

I originally started writing this blog post about two days before the now infamous press release by Marvel Comics that Captain America, the Steve Rogers one, was an agent of H.Y.D.R.A. all along. Now, never mind that this is just another example of a desperate comic industry ratings stunt to sell more than 25.000 copies of any given book not headlined by Spider-Man, Batman, or Star Wars, what really surprised me was the public outcry over this fictional character. I’ve had my issues with Captain America in the past and talked about it here or there with people, but many people are heavily attached to the character. What makes Captain America who is is, is really the embodiment of the American Spirit. Cap is, in the words of Brows Held High, not the man who fought in World War 2. He is the man who fought in the World War that Americans wanted to fight. One in which the good guys always won, in which the Americans didn’t arrest hundreds of thousands of Japanese-American citizens, in which we don’t have to talk about the suffering and dying on the front lines. Where the bad guys weren’t also mostly people fighting to survive and for their comrades to survive. And I think it took me a while to come to terms with Captain America.

Continue reading “Coming To Terms With Captain America”