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The End of (Film) History As We Know It

Don't get me wrong, I love movies. The kind that require a theater chair that reclines or a comfy couch with a smattering of soft pillows. I need the classic movie food -  buttery, salty popcorn and sweet Junior Mints. I'm talking the type of movie that pulls you in and spits you back out three hours later. It seems that, in my amateur opinion and mental survey, the majority of these films recently have been history based and I'm OK with that because I am also a lover of history. But there is something wrong in Hollywood today. I'm not sure if its apathy or greed, or a ugly combination of the two.

As a former high school history teacher it was important to me to inculcate the love of history through the use of film in my classroom. No, I wasn't the type of teacher that pushed play and let the students go braindead for two hours, although they tried. I required active viewing which meant that they were forced to pay attention to plot details and answer questions while viewing. After voicing their complaints heartily even before the movie started, at the end they were glad to have been forced to become critics-in-training because many times they made the connections with what we were discussing in class. They realized they were actually learning and it was fairly painless. Ultimately, they left my class with a myriad of experiences, some good some bad, but they also left with a stronger awareness of the power of film. When combined with a historical topic it is an extraodinary story-telling format.

Today's directors, producers, and some studios are banking on the fact that the majority of the public doesn't want a history lesson but look only to be entertained. I'm OK with that as well - movies have and should continue to be an escape. But when these same people are sometimes questioned as to the authenticity of their work from a historical perspective, they shrug it off or attempt to deflect criticism using the argument that films are creative processes, not meant to be taken as serious academic endeavors. Should Tarantino be required to 'justify' his entire film and interpretations when Speilberg only has to acknowledge some minor flaws in a vote count? Should Costner's 'Dances With Wolves' require a critical historic review when Disney plays fast and loose with all manner of historical topics in their films?

Bottom line - history is a collection of stories that are ripe for filmic versions to be created but at what point are audiences going to require accuracy over entertainment? Hollywood is not at fault for a passive public, although they likely prefer them that way, as they line up in droves on Friday nights at the cineplex. On this point, though maybe the public is becoming more discerning as box office numbers are down. (I argue that it is the state of the economy and high ticket prices). But really my argument is that not only is it possible to make both entertaining and factual commerical films but essential because future generations will wonder what type of people the early 21st century citizens were. Mindless sponges or critical thinkers. Be part of the latter group and demand more from Hollywood.

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