It seems for a film to be taken seriously, especially during the Awards Season, it must have the infamous words “Based on a True Story” scroll across the screen.
If any artistic creation has that
immortal irrelevant claim at its start it somehow seems more legitimate, more compelling. Like a completely fictitious story is less authentic, less REAL. I watch these films, and often enjoy these films. And you know what? Real life they are not.
If someone is willing to spend millions of dollars to depict true life events, it’s a pretty good sign that those events are atypical of real life. No, I’ve never been hijacked on open seas, had my infant child stolen, found myself surrounded by an army of enemy combatants in a hostile country, ended up on broken space ship orbiting the moon, nor had my fortune of ill-gotten gains lost when the FBI arrested and forced me to cooperate in bringing down all of my co-conspirators on Wall Street.
You see my life, like 99% of the world, is quite uneventful. Reality is BORING. And that’s the way we like it. I go to movies to escape, but it’s not like I really want any of those horribly dramatic, tragic, and often life-threatening things to happen to ME.
Movies are entertainment. MY life put upon the big screen, not so much;)
The most genuine depiction of real life in film last year is the completely made up story in Alexander Payne’s ‘Nebraska‘. Payne has a true gift in giving real life just enough validation and satisfaction to seem real AND entertaining. Exciting? No. But thoughtful and rewarding, nonetheless.
Film-world “true stories” and TV’s “reality shows” are not about real people living real lives. They are usually more ridiculous and unbelievable than even the most fantastic in the world of make-believe. We are entertained by things different from what we know, new ideas and experiences.
This week on ‘Chad’s Operatic Adventure’, our illustrious hero goes to his job for 40 hours of mind-numbing fun, spends countless hours in front of either a computer screen or a TV, gets in at least one after work nap, recklessly stays up past midnight two(!) nights in a row, and cereal, he eats LOTS of cereal. I see a ratings bonanza in the making;)
And a real tragedy is that most of these so-called “True Life” stories have been so altered and enhanced by the filmmakers that even those whose lived through them no longer recognize their story inside them.
So why even bother with the claim? Stephen King hasn’t suffered much by not including “Based on a True Story” in the preface of any of his work. Neither has countless other artists, authors, and filmmakers. Is ‘Citizen Kane’ less compelling because it doesn’t assert its roots? After all, it was inspired by a real life person. How about ‘The Godfather’?
All art gets inspiration from real life. Where else is it going to come from? Regardless of any silly claim at the start of a film or TV show, filmed entertainment is meant to be a subjective, viseral, enjoyable, emotional experience. I want the filmmakers to engage me, to wow me, not to “educated” me. If I want a history lesson I’ll watch a documentary or, god forbid, read about it in a book.
So keep putting “Based on a True Story” at the beginning of your film, TV series, or whatever. As long as you keep these stories as far from reality as possible, I’ll keep watching them. But, the minute you make a film that actually represents something even remotely close to my True Story, I’m out.
Chad Schulz, Oct 2014