ffakefi - Don't we just love fake history films!

Fake history films – ‘the new threat to truth’ as this recent article in the Guardian postulated. Wow! The truth is all history films are fake. There’s just no way the past can be replicated in any way or form. The closest one would see to the truth might be news reels and documentaries filmed in the earliest days of the 20th Century. Even when one splices these news reels together it only gives a one sided view of things. Even some of these documentaries were fakes as we will see later. Going back further in time than this that happens to be even more of a problem because, well, they didnt have cameras or movies in those days!

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The Guardian article. Source: Twitter

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The Guardian article. Source: Twitter

There is no absolute truth to the past, we can make what we want of it therefore our histories are mostly constructed. Everything is a hatchet job. One could say World War Two was basically UK, France, USA, Russia against Germany, Japan, and the Germans and Japanese lost out – but such a compressed assertion of WWII is nothing more than a mere passing of the truth.

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Our Thomas meets the non existent Turkish Bey…

Even the most historically accurate moves are anything but. In Lawrence of Arabia the Turkish Bey and Sherif Ali (and others) are fictionalised characters meant to give more interest. No-one can deny that Sherif Ali’s entrance as he looms out of the misty haze is extremely dramatic but the guy doesn’t even exist!

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Our Thomas with Sherif Ali – a guy who did not exist in Lawrence’s day.

As Simon Jenkins notes, historians have peddled Richard III in an unfavourable light for centuries. In Laurence Olivier’s Richard III (1955) we can at least accept its Shakespearean interpretation of the maligned King’s life is somewhat acceptable, despite being allegedly ‘far too camp and stagey’ and ‘an exaggeration of a distortion that gets us no closer to the truth.’ Guardian.

When it comes to the final scenes in Olivier’s film, one’s certain to be outraged. Its battle scenes show fake movies at their very worst. If you’ve been to Sutton Cheney or Ambion Hill wher the famous battle took place, you’ll know its gently rolling and green English hills – yet the film depicts the famous battlefield with mountains clearly visible! The critics of the time slated Olivier’s film for this huge gross historical inaccuracy.

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Olivier’s Richard III at the start of the historic Battle of Bosworth – but is that really Leicestershire?

At least the later Richard III film with Ian McKellen in the lead, its made out to be nothing more than historical fantasy. Thus one knows they are not being duped in any way. The film for starts is featured as being in a quasi World War Two setting and its final battle scenes happen to take place in what are the ruins of Battersea Power station transposed to ‘Kent.’ Perhaps it somehow took inspiration from Olivier’s production which filmed its battle scenes in Spain.

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WWII bomber coming after Richard III at the ‘Battle of Battersea’ in the McKellen production of 1995.

The earliest war movies were meant to be actual documentaries but their crews did not want to be filming real wars because it was considerably difficult, there was the risk of injury or worse, and also because it wasn’t quite so interesting as others had found. In fact those who attempted to record wars found them somewhat lacking in excitement and the first documentaries were a bit of a let down. As this Smithsonian article tells us, the early documentary film makers found that by way of dictating and controlling the content, these fake war films became far more interesting documentaries and movie goers thought they were the real truth!

Let’s change the subject a bit. Think about what you will do in the next week or so. Make a movie out of it yes? Stick a Go-Pro to your chest and record every movement of your own life during this one week. Now you have the absolute truth – or do you? It depends. The huge problem is no-one wants to watch a video that is 168 hours long. You then have to make it shorter and interesting…

Aha! We are now at the crux of the problem itself. How does one grab the attention of the viewer. A video would certainly be a waste of time if no one wanted to see it. So you edit your scenes and cut it down into say, a more manageable two hours. But that isn’t the truth. Its a presentation of a sort of truth. You’re presenting a bias designed to attract the viewer’s interest. You wouldn’t want it to be like ‘I boiled the kettle, had a cuppa, some toast and read the papers. Following that I caught the tube to work…’ You’d be doing that five times at least in this eponymous video of yours. So you gotta get creative…

Creativity is the problem! How much do you hack out, how much do you edit to make it look interesting. And will it be a good representation of what is the truth when you have finished it?

Even on the news we see what are continuities but many clips are in fact edited together to look like a cohesive truth is being played out when in fact its mostly cobbled together to provide an impact. They don’t want their viewers switching off and leaving in droves! This means even the best, most honest, film makers have to distort things a little…

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Exactly! But in turn the available facts are themselves manipulated. F for Fake.

Orson Wells made a film in the 1970s called F for Fake, which pretty much sums up what it was about. Its meant to question the idea of honesty and truth. The film blurs fact and fiction and no-one can be sure where the fact or the fiction ends and begins. Wells says at the start, “Ladies and gentlemen by way of introduction this is film about trickery, fraud, about lies.”

It begins with a narrative around an artist which is true, but then intertwines other stories including one about Howard Hughes (which is fake.) Its a confusing picture though people have applauded Wells’ attempts to approach such a difficult subject. What is more confusing is we then see UFO’s attacking Washington as War of the Worlds gets thrown in for good measure. What Wells is telling us is he has too been called out as a fake. He then quotes Picasso:

“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”

Wells then presents another story in the film which he elaborates on before admitting to the audience… ‘I have been lying for seventeen minutes.’ All these different narratives, whether they are true or not, are about convincing the viewer its not easy to know the truth. This is something that is still done to this day. All the movies we get to see are attempts to convince us of something – no matter how true or how fake it may be.

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Yikes! That’s gotta be George Galloway!

That’s it exactly. But Wells’ attempt didnt sit well with the movie goer and ‘F for Fake’ practically flopped. People want to be entertained and if its a very inaccurate film but still greatly entertaining, then this is all that matters. F for Fake tried to be too many things and it just didnt work.

When someone puts a series of smartphone clips on You Tube, Twitter, Facebook showing a particular event, others come up with their own clips showing alternative perspectives of the events. Each side does battle because one wants to own the truth and show the other as a liar. The problem is not that there’s one correct truth, its that both sides want a certain truth to be shown and again this constructs a rather incorrect view of reality.

guardianreply - Don't we just love fake history films!

One of the replies in today’s Guardian (29/01/2019) to Simon Jenkins’ article on fake films.

The above reply is spot on about several things – however I wouldn’t go as far to claim journalism isn’t fake in terms of making movies. A lot of journalism is based on a perceived truth and there’s just no way there can be an absolute truth. Journalists do make films and they want to capture peoples’ attention so there is without doubt some degree of manipulation, especially those examples cited by the Smithsonian.

In our attempts to make history more accurate we still end up with a less than truthful representation and its still difficult to even tell where the truth ends and the lies start. Its up to us to decide what is fake and what isn’t, and both are pretty well down to how each of us interprets things in our own ways.

Some say as long as a movie engages people in a particular subject and its viewers are able to question a film’s validity, it becomes an ongoing work of deconstructing the film in order to find these truths – and if there aren’t any, to acknowledge it a fake.