Amistad

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23rd, 2008 by daflo05

Steven Spielberg’s dramatic representation of trial surrounding the alleged slaves of the Amistad ship received much criticism.

First, while historical movies tend to be inaccurate on one or two big issues, this film gets numerous subtleties wrong.  This ranges from the fact that nobody wore beards or mustaches during this time period to how certain important characters in the film were not developed as well as they should be.  Secondly, critics claim that Spielberg did not put forth the effort necessary to create an accurate historical account of the Amistad trials.  This last point is why I’m posting on my blog.

Spielberg has attempted to direct movies surrounding a historical setting, such as “The Color Purple” and “Schindler’s List.”  While Amistad was being edited, though, Spielberg was working on yet another historical fiction, “Saving Private Ryan” (Reel History, 75).  Like I’ve said already, Spielberg received much criticism for “Amistad,” mainly in terms of the script and the characters in the film.  So many historical figures were involved in the Amistad trials that Spielberg was forced to choose three to work with (Joseph Cinque, Roger Baldwin, and John Quincy Adams), all of whom were protagonists in the film.  People like 8th U.S. President Martin Van Buren, Queen Isabelle II, and James Pennington (who was not portrayed in the movie) did not have significant roles in “Amistad.”  Furthermore, the nuances that Spielberg got wrong (things dealing with cosutme design and setting) were also heavily criticized.  Furthermore, all of these errors were a result of Spielberg not giving this work his full attention.  The director had to split time with also developing an eventual success in the form of “Saving Private Ryan.”

My issue with this is that I feel when making a movie as demanding as “Amistad,” 100% of everyone working on the movie should be given.  An historical event with as many people involved as this one, writers and directors need to take the time to decide who to focus on and how the angle they choose will determine how the movie portrays the event.  While “Amistad” was a respectable success, it could have received much more praise and historians would have highly touted the film rather than bash its more minuscule errors.  Granted, Spileberg is a businessman who was not only working on another potential box-office hit, but was also in the middle of developing another production company, historical accounts deserve much more care and attention.  This is important because if the goal of a director is to give the most accurate representation of history in a cinematic presentation, then he or she needs to do their best in telling that story in the right way.

Last of the Mohicans

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15th, 2008 by daflo05

Really?  Are we really supposed to believe Daniel Day Lewis to be a Native American?  A white person to be a mocha-skinned Mohican?  So much about this film distracted me from its intended purpose (which is to give, based on the adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper, the most profound insight possible into the Native American-British alliance during the Seven-Years War).  There was poor acting, lack of continuity, some historical inaccuracies, and on top of that…it was flat out boring.

In class, Dr. McClurken gave a riveting blurb on his thoughts about the film.  One of his main points was how this movie captured the dualism that Cooper implemented in his novels, specifically the perception of the Indians (those allied with both the French and the English) as noble savages vs. evil savages.  However, I what I liked the most about his speech was his argument that Last of the Mohicans is more of a primary source for the time period (1990’s) rather than a secondary source for the 1700’s and the book.  What I felt he was basically saying was that the movie (and I am of course referring to Fenimore’s books as well) took a historical event, developed fictional characters, and created a storyline out of it.  The difference between the book and the movie, McClurken says, is that the film is a romance novel (for the 90’s) that was meant to deviate from the book.  I agree with him because I feel that his points correlate with my main point in my last post (about Pocahontas) that the film industry’s primary purpose is to entertain, and then educate (if necessary).  Unfortunately, Last of the Mohicans struggled to do both.

N.B.  McClurken made a very clever joke about the movie during his speech.  When he said the movie was a primary source for the 90’s instead of a secondary source for the book, he followed that that was like having George Washington throw out the first pitch of a Washington Senators baseball game in the 1800’s:  there was a GW, there was baseball, there was a Wash. Senators, and there was an 1800’s.  Hilarious.

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Pocahontas

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7th, 2008 by daflo05

So the first movie we watched in this class was Disney’s Pocahontas. Before last Tuesday (Sept. 2nd) I had not seen this children’s classic since I was about 8 years-old. I know I don’t have the most accurate memory, but I think it is safe to say this film provided a different perspective about Native American life than when I was a grade-school kid trying to sing-along to the lyrics of the popular soundtrack. Furthermore, it would be an understatement if I said that in class, we just bifurcated the movie into what was accurate about it and what they got wrong. We actually focused more on the inaccuracies and pretty much denounced Disney for their attempts at making a film about the English settlement in America.

One thing that gets me, though, is are we really justified in calling out Disney’s inaccuracies? What I mean is, was Disney’s original intention to tell the true story of Pocahontas, John Smith, Jamestown, etc.? Or did they just want to take two historically significant figures, develop a romance story between them in the context of a historical event, and make it animated so it’s targeted towards kids? If the former is true, then I think it is everyone’s duty as Americans to point out every minuscule flaw we see (even if it is outrageous as a talking tree). However, if the latter was the way Disney wanted to go, then we should think twice about our criticisms. After all, do kids really care about whether or not Ratcliffe was technically a captain of the ship and not a governor of London? I would think they were more concerned about Mikko being funny and cute enough and songs catchy enough to sing along to. I think it is great that we as movie-goers and history-buffs are keen and aware not to be fooled by a false story when we see one; but we should look at why a movie about specific historical event was made. Not everyone enjoys history, so movies are a great way to go about teaching it. Maybe the errors movies make were on purpose just so the film as a whole could be appreciated by a specific audience. Then it is up to the audience to delve deeper into history and find out its true story.

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