Thursday, January 3, 2013

Accurate? True?

Alison - Elvis Costello (YouTube)

When Elvis Costello sings “My aim is true,” what does he mean? Does he mean his intentions are honest? Does he mean his goals are on target? What is his aim, and what is true?

These are not Clintonian word games I play with this great song, but rather something far more sincere and earnest. That is to say, my questions are true.

My 11-year-old daughter -- a girl long fascinated more by fact than fiction, by history rather than fantasy -- sat next to me in the dark theater patiently working to comprehend the 2.5 hours of dialogue that is Lincoln.

She would occasionally ask me questions; occasionally I would offer her explanations unsolicited. It was a tough movie for her. Intense and lengthy dialogues and monologues, but she stayed focused and worked at it, and I was proud of her for it.

Certain scenes still sit with me weeks later. Lincoln sitting at the window with his son on his lap as he awaits news of the amendment. James Spader. The motivating passion behind Thaddeus Stevens' "full equality" beliefs. Boyd Crowder playing a wormy chickenheart. And all the way through, some amazing lines from an actor uniquely able to disappear into his characters.

Throughout the film, Spielberg’s aim with Lincoln was true. I could not attest to its accuracy, historically speaking, although I’m certain that, were Honest Abe himself to view the film, he would be aghast at the liberties taken with his life and times. There’s a great scene near the end of HBO’s John Adams series where the man, old and even more crotchety, sees Trumbull’s famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and gets wicked pissed at its inaccuracy, coughing out all of the reasons the painting was a sham. Surely a similar reaction would befall this film.

In the service of art, sometimes accuracy gets in the way of truth.

Is this Rorschach...
or The Donald?
The frame-for-frame remake of Psycho sucked. Why? How? Because it lost the art and became a bad color photocopy. Zach Snyder’s fastidiously faithful movie version of Watchmen fell shy of expectation as well, because his focus on accuracy reined in the creative vision needed to translate the tale into a new medium.

On the other hand, when “art” is the excuse for intentional inaccuracy -- or let’s just call it what it is: Dishonesty -- then neither truth nor accuracy are being served.

I’m speaking specifically of “Reality TV,” that universally craptastic category of television that exploits and titillates but has interest neither in truth nor accuracy. Even those who create this crap -- and they create it, people, because you will apparently watch paint dry if they call it “Honey Boo Boo” -- hate it.

But they hide behind this illusion that they’re creating “art,” which is like Donald Trump hiding behind the illusion that he’s an intelligent self-made man rather than a spoon-fed brat borne from the coattails of his millionaire father.

To review:
  • Lincoln: True and great, if not completely accurate.
  • Watchmen: Accurate and OK, but not great.
  • Reality TV: Crap and not even real.
  • Donald Trump: His own best fictional creation.
UPDATE: 11:30AM 1/3:
An article in The Atlantic about Zero Dark Thirty and accuracy. Very fitting with this post.

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