I do love a trip to the cinema- despite the rising prices! To see it on the big screen, to avoid distractions that can ruin a film at home, to be engrossed in a new film where the plot won’t have been ruined already! I saw ‘Chronicle’ the other week, and I really enjoyed the ‘realism’ of the film. Yes, it is a film about 3 teenagers inheriting superhuman powers, but the way in which they dealt with these new found powers was far more realistic than Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Spiderman!
Of course, I love historical films. Movies like “Thirteen Days”, “JFK”, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Apollo 13”, “Valkyrie”, “Black Hawk Down”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Amazing Grace” or “Enemy at the Gates”- my list is pretty long!
And tonight is the Oscars- the biggest night in Hollywood’s calendar. The nominees have been announced, the winners have been rumoured and tonight (or tomorrow morning for most of us in the UK) will find out who comes out celebrating. From the top prize of “Best Picture” to more specialist winners such as “sound editing” and “visual effects”, each Academy award is almost priceless (although one was once sold for $2250 on the black market!) because of the extra sales revenue that a winning film can receive from an intrigued movie audience.
On an “it is linked honest” but seemingly random note, I spent Saturday evening with some friends, and amidst laughing at the ridiculous nature of “Take me out” and watching the wonderful ‘Equilibrium’ (more on this later), we played an Oscars trivia quiz. You were given just the initials of the winning film, and the year it won, and had to come up with the right answer (big thanks to Mr. Lovering for the idea!) As we played this game, and frustrations grew, I did reach a typically historically-geeky realisation- a lot of past winners were period films. From recent winners like “The King’s Speech”, “The Hurt Locker” and “No Country for Old Men” to other well-known winners such as “Gladiator”, “Shakespeare in Love” or “Titanic”- I haven’t even mentioned “The English Patient”, “Braveheart” or “Schindler’s List”, and I’ve only gone as far back as 1993!
Looking at tonight’s nominees for “Best Picture”, I couldn’t help but notice that four of the nominees are also historical pieces. There is “The Artist”, “Warhorse”, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “The Help”.What is it about the past that is so appealing on the big screen?
I’ve spoken before about how film can be a powerful tool for teaching History, but how dangerous it can be if it doesn’t portray History accurately (you can read it here) . But what about the other side of the coin? Why do directors, producers, film companies and actors want to create historical films?
Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots” tells us that every story ever told can fit into seven categories- ‘overcoming the monster’; ‘from rags to riches’; ‘ the quest’; ‘voyage and rebirth’; ‘comedy’; ‘tragedy’ and ‘rebirth’. Some fit more than one of these plots, but every story ever told fits in somewhere. We can relate to these stories because of the elements of truth contained within them. Even when the story is sci-fi, fantasy or fairytale, they are built around aspects of reality that we can see ourselves in.
Getting back to our main point however- we love historical films because the best stories are true, or at least parodies of the truth. They portray context we can relate to, emotions that we can associate with. It doesn’t mean that historical films are sure winners- anyone seen Alexander?!
My case in point would be “Equilibrium”- last night’s film of choice- a sci-fi, dystopian cult classic. Inspired by films such as “The Matrix” and “Minority Report”, it explores the concept of the power of emotion, whilst parodying one of history’s most controversial experiences- that of a totalitarian dictatorship. We can see similarities between the reign of the Tetragrammaton over the Librian people and the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini. The use of terror and propaganda, the control of “EC-10” material, and of ‘Clericks’ who maintain law and order, are almost identical. We can relate to it because we’ve seen it in History.
A point in case- there are no period films nominated for a “Razzie” (an awards evening for the year’s worst films), not a single one- just numerous nominations for Twilight, Transformers and Jack & Jill! So as Spielberg, Scorsese and Scott well know, bringing History to the big screen always has great potential for both commercial and critical success- and more often than not, I’ll be there!