Cinema Lounge: History vs.
by Adam Spector
Ever since 1903's The Great Train Robbery, filmmakers have
used history for prime material. But while historically-based films are
nothing new, recently several films, such as The Patriot, Thirteen
Days, and Pearl Harbor, have come under fire for
inaccuracies. Why the recent outcry? What is the filmmaker's
responsibility--good history or good storytelling? The Cinema
Lounge explored these and other questions on Monday, August 14.
Many of us believed that the heightened scrutiny of historical facts
comes from Americans' lack of faith in their education system. People
believe, rightly or wrongly, that filmgoers will automatically view what
they see on screen as what actually happened. That was certainly the
case with JFK, which is a reason the film incurred the
wrath of so many journalists and historians. Paradoxically, it is easier
than ever to find historical information and comb a film to pick out
Some in our group noted that films today are often apt to use more
recent history. This often means that participants in the events
depicted are still alive. Also, there are more likely to be film or
video records available. An actor playing Abraham Lincoln on screen will
have much more freedom than one playing John F. Kennedy or Richard
Nixon. After all, we have seen countless clips of Kennedy and Nixon.
History is also a matter of pride. Jonathan Mostow claimed that
U-571, his WW II submarine thriller, was an action film,
not a historical film. But U-571 depicted Americans as
recovering a Nazi decoder device, angering many in England, whose armed
forces actually did recover the device.
Generally, we agreed that historical films should not be expected to get
everything right. Screenwriters must often streamline stories and
combine characters to order to deliver an entertaining film. Real-life
events need to be tailored to fit into a dramatic structure. Filmgoers
should not ask whether a film got every single detail right, but rather
whether a film captured the spirit of the time and place it depicts.
Does a film clean up characters to present them as more heroic (see
The Hurricane) or whitewash important issues of the time,
such as slavery (see The Patriot, or better yet,
We all acknowledged that Hollywood will continue using history for
films. Some pointed out that these films can serve a very valuable role
because they reach so many people. Films such as Glory and
Platoon raised awareness about previously foreign aspects
of the Civil War and the Vietnam War, respectively. More recently,
Schindler's List helped encourage debate and discussion
about the Holocaust and a fostered a renewed understanding of the horror
and bloodshed that swallowed so many. Saving Private Ryan
did the same for World War II. Ideally, historical films prompt those
interested to conduct their own research through books and computers.
After all, films are business, they are entertainment, sometimes they
are even art, but they are not history lessons.
Please join us for the next Cinema Lounge
on Monday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Borders Books, 5333 Wisconsin
Ave, NW in the Cafe Espresso on the 2nd floor. It's time for our Summer
Review/Fall Preview. We will discuss the best and worst of the summer
of 2001. What were the surprise hits? What were the massive disappointments?
Any indies or foreign films that stood out? We will also highlight the
films we are looking forward to seeing this fall.
Calendar of Events
The American Film Institute
Bob le Flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1955) runs from
The first-ever DC Labor FilmFest includes Secrets of Silicon
Valley (Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow, 2001) on September 6 at
6:30pm, Life and Debt (Stephanie Black, 2001) on September
6 at 8:30pm, La Ciudad (David Riker, 1998) on September 7
at 6:30pm, Bread and Roses (Ken Loach, 2000), also
previously shown at DC FilmFest, Live Nude Girls Unite!
(Julia Query and Vicky Funari, 2000) on September 8 at 6:30pm and
At the River I Stand (David Appleby, Allison Graham and
Steven Ross, 1993) on September 8 at 8:30pm.
"A Tribute to ITVS" includes In the Light of Reverence
(Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor, 2001) shown with United
States of Poetry: Land and the People (Mark Pellington, 1995)
on September 9 at 6:30pm; Homecoming--Sometimes I Am Haunted by
Red Dirt and Clay (Charlene Gilbert, 1999) shown with A
Days Work, A Days Pay (Katherine Leichter and Jonathan Skurnik,
2001) on September 10 at 6:30pm; Outside Looking In (Phil
Bertelsen, 2001) shown with First Person Plural (Deann
Borshay Liem, 2000) on September 11 at 6:30pm; and Travis
(Richard Kotuk, 1997) shown with Run Like a Girl (Carol
Cassidy, 1999) on September 12 at 6:30pm.
The Ermanno Olmi series recently completed at the National Gallery of
Art continues at the AFI with The Circumstance (1974) on
September 8 at 2:00pm and September 10 at 8:45pm; The Secret of
the Old Woods (1993) on September 8 at 3:45pm and September 11
8:45pm; and Camminacammina (1983) on September 9 at
8:00pm and September 12 at 8:45pm.
From September 13-23 is the Latin American Film Festival.
Kicking off the Marlene Dietrich Film Festival, to be celebrated in
several venues during the fall, the AFI shows The Blue
Angel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) from September 24-30.
The Transafrica Forum
The documentary Africa: Savanna Homecoming is on
September 12 at 6:30pm at 1744 R Street, NW with a discussion
following the screening. Reservations are required: 202-797-2301.
The District of Columbia Jewish Community Center
On September 11 at 6:30pm and 8pm is local filmmaker Esther McBride's
new documentary In the Old Days (2001), stories about
Jewish life in Washington D.C. told through the voices of 13 older
Washingtonians. The film (30 minutes) is introduced by Alan M. Kraut and
the filmmaker and one of the persons appearing in the film will lead a
discussion following each screening. There is a reception between the
two screenings. To order tickets call 202-357-3030.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
On September 14 at 7pm is "An Evening of Mystery", a film screening with
director Pamela Beere Briggs and a reading with author Sara Paretsky.
For reservations call 202-783-7370.
On September 19 at 7pm is "Deconstructing Rapunzel on Film," a series of
films including Rapunzel (Ray Harryhausen, 1951),
Rapunzel, Rapunzel (Tom Davenport, 1979), and
Rapunzel Let Down Your Hair (Susan Shapiro, Esther Ronay
and Francine Winham, 1978). For reservations call 202-783-7370.
National Gallery of Art
The Gallery's two-part program "Landscapes of the Soul," includes
Hunters in the Snow (Michael Kreihsl, 2000) on September
1 at 2:00pm, Brigitta (Dagmar Knöpfel, 1994) on September
1 at 4:00pm, Arnold Böcklin (Bernhard Raith, 1987) on
September 2 at 2:00pm and Ludwig 1881 (Fosco and Donatello
Dubini, 1993) on September 2 at 4:00pm.
A Jacques Tati series starts September 7 at 2:30pm with Jour de
Fête (1948) preceded by L'École des Facteurs
(1947). This repeats on September 8 at 1:30pm. M. Hulot's
Holiday (1853) is on September 8 at 4:00pm; Mon
Oncle (1958) is on September 9 at 4:00pm; Playtime
(1968) is on September 14 at 2:30pm and September 15 at 3:00pm, preceded
by Cours du Soir (1967); closing with a double-bill of
Traffic (1970) and Parade (1973) on
September 16 at 4:00pm.
For the rest of September and early October is a Melina Mercouri series.
The films include Stella (Michael Cacoyannis, 1955) on
September 22 at 3:00pm; He Who Must Die (Jules Dassin,
1957) on September 23 at 4:00pm; Phaedra (Jules Dassin,
1961) on September 29 at 2:30 (shown with Lord Elgin and Some
Stones of No Value (1985) on September 29 at 2:30; and A
Dream of Passion (Jules Dassin, 1978) on September 30 at
The "Masters of Music" series continues in September with Luciano
Berio (Reuven Hecker, 2000) on September 5, 6, and 7 at 12:30pm
and The Unseen (Mirek Janek, 1996) on September 15 at
In September, the Pickford Theater will start a new series of Japanese
films, musicals, and others. On September 18 at 7:00pm is
Starstruck (Gillian Anderson, 1982), on September 21 at
7:00pm is Funny Face (Stanley Donen, 1957), and On
September 27 is Woman of the Mist (Heinosuke Gosho, 1936),
Films on the Hill
On September 21 at 7:30pm is the comedy The Lady Eve
(Preston Sturges, 1941) and on September 26 at 7:00pm is Seven
Keys to Baldpate (Reginald Barker, 1929), preceded by a Charley
Chase comedy The Tabasco Kid and a trailer.
Freer Gallery of Art
A series of recent films from Turkey are shown in September and October.
If you missed Run for Money (Reha Erdem, 1999) during the
DC FilmFest, you can see it on September 16 at 2pm. Others are
Clouds of May (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 1999) on September 23 at
2:00pm and The Third Page on September 30 at 2:00pm.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
"New Films Set in Berlin" is the theme of a three-part series at the
Hirshhorn in September. On September 27 at 8:00pm is Berlin
Babylon (Huburtus Siegert, 1996-2000); on September 28 at 8:00pm
is Berlin Is In Germany (Hannes Stöhr, 2000), and on
October 4 and 5 at 8:00pm is planet alex (Uli Schüppel,
National Museum of Natural History
Costa Rica: Land of Pure Life (2001) is on September 14
at noon. On September 21 is a series of three films "The Peace Corps
at 40" including Africa Extreme (2001) at noon,
The Language We Cry In (1998) at 2:30pm, and
Return to Belaye: A Rite of Passage (2001) at 7:00pm. The
"Peace Corps at 40" films repeat on September 22 from 2pm to 5:30pm.
On September 21 at 7:00pm is Cirque du Soleil Journey of
Man at the Museum of Natural History, a visual and musical
celebration of life featuring the unique performers and artistry of
Cirque du Soleil, photographed at spectacular locations around the
French Cancan (Jean Renoir, 1955) is on September 5
at 7:00pm. On September 12 is a Wine Reception and the opening night
film in conjunction with the Smithsonian Associates program "The
Best of New French Cinema" see below.
"The Best of New French Cinema," a selection of original and
engaging feature films from France, cosponsored with the Embassy
of France. September 12 at 7:00pm is Ouch! (Sophie
Fillières, 2000), September 19 at 7:00pm is Beau Travail
(Claire Denis, 2000), previously at DC FilmFest and on September 26 at
7:00pm is The Same Old Song (Alain Resnais, 1999).
FILM COURSES AND LECTURES
September 16, 10:30am-4:30pm
National Public Radio film contributor Pat Dowell and psychoanalyst/film
critic Justin Frank join forces to address many issues facing filmgoers
interested in a deeper appreciation of the medium. Questions of
perception, truth, meaning, philosophy, and the unconscious mind will be
addressed through the analysis of fascinating film clips from mainstream
Hollywood, American independent, art films, and avant-garde
The Turandot Project
September 19, 8:00pm
Screening and Lecture. The Turandot Project is a
documentary film chronicling the creation of an extraordinary production
of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot. The award-winning Chinese filmmaker
Zhang Yimou directed both productions with conductor Zubin Mehta.
The Ultimate Screenwriting Workshop
September 23, 9:45am-5:30pm
This comprehensive seminar provides a tactical approach to crafting
a viable feature-length script. Instructor Mark Lapadula uses extensive
video clips and print materials to illustrate each aspect of the
screenwriting process. Mr. Lapadula heads the screenwriting program at
Yale University, and also teaches at Columbia University's Film School,
the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University.
Shakespeare and the Movies
September 23, 10am-4:30pm
In this richly clip-illustrated seminar, National Public Radio Film
Contributor Pat Dowell explores the great films of the great plays
such as "Hamlet" and "King Lear," as well as the Bard's influence
on such movies as Forbidden Plant and 10
Things I Hate About You.
The Great Ringmaster of the Cinema: Federico Fellini
September 30, 10am-4:30pm
One of the most famous names in film for two decades, Fellini is known
for his gaudy excess of style and his conspicuous delight in peopling
the daylight world with phantasms drawn from dreams and nightmares.
National Public Radio Film Contributor Pat Dowell delivers this
clip-illustrated seminar, as enlightening to the novice as to the most
devoted Fellini fan.
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