8 May 2005

Historical art

Recently, I've been struggling over the question of historical accuracy in Kingdom of Heaven [IMDB] with regard to aesthetic license. From what I've been reading, Ridley Scott has elided many religious issues from the movie in order to emphasize political and social themes. A historian, specializing in the fourth crusade, defended this shift in focus on NPR by pointing out that art throughout history has always transformed historical events to fit the taste of the day. That seems like a good point, but are artists always allowed the play the entertainment card when their accuracy is criticized?

There have been several recent films based on historical events: Alexander [IMDB], Pearl Harbor [IMDB], Troy [IMDB], etc., and many more before those, each with varying levels of fidelity to the source.

In a recent article from the Skeptical Inquirer, Massimo Polidoro (whose writing I had previously read concerning The Priory of Scion) highlights some of his investigations into the Kennedy assassination. He points out some of the flaws in Oliver Stone's movie JFK, flaws that were compelling to the author before his research but that now seem contrived. To write his book, Polidoro did not take advantage of any information that was unavailable to Stone, he merely examined the existing information more critically.

You can't really blame Oliver Stone for making mistakes: he put his theories out there to be either accepted or disproved. Fair enough. This is similar-but-different to the artistic license taken in other historical dramas. At what point is the art abusing its subject? Is it ever? Pearl Harbor was a movie with issues similar to Kingdom of Heaven (and another movie I haven't seen). It apparently ignored it's main subject to focus on secondary stories. Again, artistic license, but aren't critics justified in their complaints? Isn't there an amount of attention deficit going on with the director to make a movie about the crusades that ignores religion? And what would be more relevant to the interests of our current society than a historical examination of the relationship between Christians and Muslims?

I don't know, maybe I should just blame those damn liberals in Hollywood.

[ posted by sstrader on 8 May 2005 at 4:02:54 PM in Cinema ]