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The Important Message in Romero

The Important Message in Romero

[1] Can film as a medium make any sense of History? Most of the time that seems not even to be the issue. So-called “historical” movies such as Pocahontas and Glory have been attacked for straying from the recorded facts of the events they portray in an attempt to tell a more attractive story. This practice has its roots in the movie-making process. Hollywood exists to make money, do not be fooled. Movies cost millions of dollars to film, print, release, and promote. Therefore, producers have little choice but to create movies that will appeal to as many moviegoers as possible in an effort to earn back the investment. To this end, moviemakers feel the need to take liberties with plot, characterizations, and historical accuracy to create a product that will sell. Hollywood favors drama and conflict, so when an historical story lacks one of these elements, it is often simply added for the sake of appeal. This practice falls under great scrutiny by those with a serious interest in the events that these movies portray. Because the better part of American viewers expect and demand stories told with the Hollywood spin, those films that attempt to stick doggedly to the facts generally do poorly in the box-office.

[2] Many historical films, however, have found success while staying true to the facts. These films oftentimes come from producers, directors, and actors with a genuine concern for the events they deal with. Spike Lee certainly had a pointed interest in the making of Malcolm X, as did Tom Hanks in making Saving Private Ryan. Hanks’ emotional tie to the movie surfaced in his speech at the podium of the Oscars this past year when he urged Americans to support our veterans and reminded us of the gift they have given to our country. Passion such as Hanks’ from within the making of the movie can provide an energy and vibrance that appeals even more than cheap Hollywood tricks. Either way, the same dangers apply, because passion usually fosters strong opinions that create biases in recounting the facts. Biographies tend to radiate greatness; war movies tend to take sides; racial movies tend to invoke sympathy. The same passion that motivates these people to make historical movies can also lead to a perversion of the story’s historical facts.
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