Thursday, 5 March 2009

Taking a bullet for the future of the monarchy?

A lot of fuss is being made about historical inaccuracies in the new Scorsese produced film, The Young Victoria. I believe  a clear distinction must be made between history used as a vehicle in the entertainment industry and documentaries about the same subjects.

I wonder how many Americans think Shakespeare was an historical writer not a dramatist. Yet he bent the truth so much to fit the story history came back on itself. Dickens was hot and cold with this, many people even in this country (UK) think Oliver Twist is a diorama of Victorian Britain, yet Hard Times is noted for a pushing real socio-political shift. I've never been confused with historical drama and documented history, two very different beasts altogether. If this wasn't acceptable or loved then Oliver Stone wouldn't have a career for one.

Also Scorsese has form in this field so it is hardly surprising. Take a look at Gangs of New York, Kundun, The Aviator and (Last Temptation of Christ?). All of which used directorial alchemy to turn the stuffy facts into his own auteur style of fiction. I suppose that is why he is so raw and personal in his documentaries such as The Rolling Stones, Dylan, The Band and his blues documentaries. So I bet his role as producer in this film was much more hands on than most other producers. In fact he is currently making a very similar film based on the early years of Teddy Roosevelt, so watch out for more historical re-writes there.

This claim can also be laid at the feet of non-American directors such as the existentialist European movement who twisted history in general to suit their Marxist principles. They used film like a dusty mirror held up to society so they had to look closer to see their own reflection, thus gaining a greater depth of the universal truth of history. This is using history to change history. However in saying that, Chaplin was as guilty of this as Antonioni, Godard or Bergman. His critique of modernism and industrialisation in Modern Times and The Great Dictator supposedly changed both American and German views of the world around them and forced them to take a harder look at modern history. Hitler in particular was made to look like an inadequate buffoon and this made many of his own people re-evaluate him. This also helped to slowly drag, rather than pull, the rug of trust from underneath his feet. Apparently Hitler was a great fan of the film though!

It is propaganda that is all. Whether it is political, religious or social, it is all just propaganda. And don't think this film about Victoria isn't also. Just count how many films were made about the royal family in the times before the chaos that ensued after Diana perished in Paris. Now count how many films have been made since. All of which lean toward a more historical time of great monarchy or strong leadership within the household. Elizabeth I was shown as the world conqueror and steely leader, or Elizabeth II who has been portrayed more than once since that fateful night as cast from the same mould as her namesake monarch, by leading our country and her family through so many hard times. Even this film, which presents us with a fragile and confused monarch who overcomes tragedy to be the longest serving Queen can be added to that list; queen who becomes the masthead of a golden age of British history. Around the world through the magic of cinema, the Royal family is slowly being portrayed as victims of tragedy who overcome it to become great leaders and writers of history; think that isn't a post Diana propaganda machine at work? There are many more examples out there too.

So you see if we look at a so called "historical" film as historically accurate then we are fooling ourselves before we even hand over our credit card to buy a ticket. History and the writing of history has forever had a gentleman's agreement that the information will be used to create the greatest effect; whether this is a biased truth, an overall reassessment of the truth or entertaining fiction to gain this end. History is power and fiction is more powerful than the hard facts.

Paws: The Revenge.