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 Posted: Sat Mar 13th, 2010 06:30 pm
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Mark
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Folks, in the last issue of Time magazine the cover article was about how television and more specifically, Tom Hanks (with Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific, etc.) is redefining how Americans interpret their past.  The article ended with the sentence,

"There is no such thing as definitive history...he [Hanks] is on a mission to make our pages come alive, to keep overhauling the history we know and, in the process, get us to understand not just the past but the choices we make today."

Anyone have any comments on whether or not television and other media are replacing written monographs as how we interpret history?  And if so, is this a good thing?  I think movies and television do indeed make history more accessible to the majority of Americans and that is a good thing.  However, I do wonder if most viewers understand that there are many different interpretations to any one event in history and I worry that many viewers will not look farther than the movie screen for other views.  I'm sorry to ramble, but I think this is an important question for those of us who are interested in history.  Cheers!

Mark



 Posted: Sat Mar 13th, 2010 08:51 pm
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javal1
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Mark,

A valid concern, but as far as I've seen Hanks does it well. BoB was based entirely on memoirs, diaries, etc. So is the upcoming "Pacific". While one couls argue with the premise of Saving Private Ryan, the realism made WW2 vets cry. I guess if someone's gonna do it, I have no problem with Hanks being the one.



 Posted: Mon Mar 15th, 2010 01:02 am
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19bama46
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"Gee, they wouldn't put it on television if it weren't true, would they?"



 Posted: Mon Mar 15th, 2010 02:39 am
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Mark
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My question isn't so much about Hanks (perhaps my topic heading is misleading) but rather about history being told through media other than the traditional printed book. Now that I've thought about it for a few days, I guess its not a new phenomenon. People in the 1920s were learning history from the film "Birth of the Nation," people in my grandfather's generation learned about the ACW from the movie "Gone with the Wind," and my generation learns about WWII from "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers." I just wonder at what point, if any, visual history will replace the printed word as the primary way the public learns about history. Hope that clarifies things. Thanks for the responses already.

Mark



 Posted: Mon Mar 15th, 2010 03:01 am
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javal1
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But Mark, aren't 90-95% of the visual history's simply adaptations of the written genre (i.e. GWTW) ? If so, what's the harm?



 Posted: Mon Mar 15th, 2010 03:22 am
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19bama46
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javal1 wrote: But Mark, aren't 90-95% of the visual history's simply adaptations of the written genre (i.e. GWTW) ? If so, what's the harm?

The harm is 'artistic license" that becomes "truth"...when in fact it is not.

I doubt there has been a historical movie made anywhere at any time that was true to the book is was "based on"

When you view a movie, you can only see thru the camera's eye... when you read a book, you see thru your mind's eye... and it is infinitely more varied



 Posted: Mon Mar 15th, 2010 03:32 am
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javal1
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I get your point bama, and I'm not sure I disagree. But there seems to be an assumption that the written format doesn't take artistic license, which of course it does. I guess I don't understand why you can't see a movie, or visual format, through your mind's eye as well.

BTW, good topic Mark



 Posted: Mon Mar 15th, 2010 11:56 am
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Mark
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I don't think there is any harm in telling history through the camera lens (in fact I think it many respects it can be a good thing and reach a larger audience) as long as the visual media is held to the same academic standards that printed history is. If not you get movies like "300"--interesting visual effects, but lousy history, and now there is a large segment of the population who think they understand the battle of Thermoplye because they saw that movie.

-Mark



 Posted: Tue Mar 16th, 2010 11:36 pm
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pamc153PA
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Mark,

This is a good topic.

I think a difference may be in the reason for the historical recounting of an event: for learning or for entertainment. Sometimes, I think, the latter might well lead to the former.

I myself was "hooked" on the Civil War by the movie Gettysburg. I then read the book The Killer Angels--and soon after realized that what Shaara had written (no disrespect to Mr. Shaara, whatsoever) was really historical fiction, to a great extent. As I became a true CW student, I learned the truth that had been stretched to fit the fiction, and while I wouldn't recommend the book or movie as a truthful resource to someone seriously studying the war, I still have a soft spot for both, for what they are and for what they did for me: the entertainment value of both made me want to learn more, and in the learning, I am constantly discovering the "real" Civil War.

I think if one watches a movie about a historical event, unless it's a documentary or news reel footage, one has to understand that movies are, well, movies. But it might just be enough to make someone crack open written accounts of the real event.

Pam

P.S. Joe had a good point: not all written accounts are free of "embellishment" of one sort or another. Read Joshua Chamberlain's memoirs, for an example!



 Posted: Tue Mar 16th, 2010 11:50 pm
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TimK
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So, if I understand, Mel Gibson didn't single handedly win the Revolutionary War and Pearl Harbor wasn't a love story?

Seriously though, "The Killer Angels" piqued my curiosity about Gettysburg, prompting me to want to learn more - and figure out what was fiction and what was fact. It was a good book.



 Posted: Wed Mar 17th, 2010 12:17 am
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Doc C
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First there were paintings on a cave wall, then hieroglyphics, sanskrit, greek, latin, english, photography, now film media ---- its called evolution. What's next the internet????

Doc C



 Posted: Wed Mar 17th, 2010 12:37 am
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pamc153PA
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Sorry to burst your bubble, Tim, but no to both. :)

And there are some good historical fiction books out there, both Shaaras being among them. I just finished Widow of the South and that really, really got me interested in the battle of Franklin, which I didn't know much about until I started reading more about the real battle. When I get weary of the heavyduty history, I like to dabble in the lighter stuff!

Pam

 



 Posted: Wed Mar 17th, 2010 11:12 pm
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Mark
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Pam, I think you are right about the key being the difference between history education and entertainment. I think someone like Tom Hanks would say that he makes shows like "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" to honor the sacrafice of WWII veterans. I suppose falls somewhere in between education and entertainment. Thanks for all the responses so far!



 Posted: Thu Mar 18th, 2010 06:49 pm
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Nathanb1
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I love historical fiction...no problem as long as it's marketed that way. My pet peeve is television and movies which fail to let the viewer know what they're watching is a screenwriter's adaptation of a story based on history. So-called "documentaries" which are really poorly researched accounts from a biased point of view come to mind. I've seen enough posts on civil war sites in which people defend Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as a great general simply because they saw Gettysburg. All of these books and films contain an element of truth...I just wish I didn't have to spend my time educating kids who think they know it all because they saw "Young Guns"



 Posted: Fri Mar 19th, 2010 07:58 am
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ole
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Hey, Nate.

Ole



 Posted: Sat Mar 20th, 2010 02:01 am
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Captain Crow
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If people's curiosity is piqued by a program/movie that is inspired by or based on historical fact I'm all for it. If they are too lazy to dig deeper for knowledge on a subject and want to trust Hollyweird to give them the facts...it's their loss. I view Hanks' works as fact-based, entertaining, visual tributes to historical events. By the way "The Pacific" is quite good imo.



 Posted: Sat Aug 21st, 2010 05:12 am
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Hellcat
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Not everyone learns the same way. Some folks learn better through visuals than through printed material and some folks learn better through printed material than through visuals. And for some it's a combination of the two.

That said this question seems less about actual learning and more about entertainment in regards to history. Or it seems have become such. In that instance I have to say that any entertainment that can get people to want to go and look up the actual history behind that entertainment is something worth having. I don't expect everyone that reads a fiction book, or goes to see a movie, or even watches TV is going to want to then go and look things up. But there are going to be those with some interest in what they read or saw who'll want to learn more about it. That is where the educational value of such entertainment may lie in my opinion.



 Posted: Sat Aug 21st, 2010 06:14 pm
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Number Nine
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This is a great thread with great posts. IMHO it's all good, I became interested in the Civil War from reading Killer Angels and a Hunley junkie from watching the movie. I prefer actual history but still enjoy a good historical fiction in both books and movies.



 Posted: Sat Aug 21st, 2010 10:40 pm
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Mark
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As I think more about this, I realize that using visual media to portray history is nothing new. Though I couldn't name any off the top of my head, I'm sure some Greek plays have some roots in history, the Romans "re-enacted" famous battles in the Colosseum when they weren't feeding political dissidents to the lions. I'm certain that various plays in the early United States commemorated the American Revolution and other important early events. And of course, my Dad remembers watching Davy Crockett on the TV when he was growing up. History continues to survive in all mediums! I read an interesting quote from Gordon Wood, in "The Purpose of the Past," the other day that made me smile: "The past is much more powerful than the historians that would reform it."

-Mark



 Posted: Mon Aug 23rd, 2010 01:09 pm
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j harold 587
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I have a book of Brady photographs purchased by my G-grandfather who was there. It would be what we consider a coffee table book. Since the ACW was the first War to be heavily photographed it could be the first to be marketed in a visual non-text type presentation.

That book, his letters, and Bruce Catton started me on this intrest and I continue to learn and gather new information.

As to movies based on historical fact how about Letters from Iwo Jima? A movie based on facts about a man who knew and respected his enemy and still because of his personal honor and commitment to his homeland fought the very county he respected.  Sounds like men we all know who resigned their commissions and "went South".  

 



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