DID YOU READ

Why Does the Truth Matter in “The King’s Speech?”

Why Does the Truth Matter in “The King’s Speech?” (photo)

Posted by on

I’ve talked to a lot of people about “The Social Network.” I’ve met people who didn’t like it because they felt it didn’t tell them enough about Facebook. I’ve met people who didn’t like it because they didn’t think it lived up to the hype or their expectations. But I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like “The Social Network” because it was untruthful. For whatever reason, it’s just not a big deal to most viewers. Oh sure, they may be curious about where director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin contorted the facts to serve their needs as filmmakers. But very few people looked at the truth, compared it to the movie, and said “this invalidates the film.”

Which is why I’m a bit confused by the growing controversy around “The Social Network”‘s biggest competitor at next month’s Academy Awards, “The King’s Speech.” Most of it surrounds this article by Christopher Hitchens for Slate. Entitled “Churchill Didn’t Say That,” Hitchens details the various ways in which the film, about King George VI (Colin Firth) and his battle to overcome his speech impediment on the eve of World War II, strays from the historical record. According to Hitchens, the film, directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, is particularly inaccurate in its depiction of Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) and the King as longtime allies. In fact, Churchill was extremely loyal to George VI’s predecessor, Edward VIII. Further, while the film implies that George VI immediately rallied England to defeat the Germans after his coronation, he actually supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s strategy of appeasement for as long as he could. Hitchens writes:

“The king himself, even after the Nazi armies had struck deep north into Scandinavia and clear across the low countries to France, did not wish to accept Chamberlain’s resignation. He ‘told him how grossly unfairly he had been treated, and that I was genuinely sorry.’ Discussing a successor, the king wrote that “‘, of course, suggested [Lord] Halifax.’ It was explained to him that this arch-appeaser would not do and that anyway a wartime coalition could hardly be led by an unelected member of the House of Lords. Unimpressed, the king told his diary that he couldn’t get used to the idea of Churchill as prime minister and had greeted the defeated Halifax to tell him that he wished he had been chosen instead. All this can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.”

To be fair, Hitchens does note that “The King’s Speech” is “an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot.” But he also says that it constitutes “a major desecration of the historical record.” But why does that matter in the case of this film and not in the case of “The Social Network?”

Maybe the liberties Fincher and Sorkin took don’t constitute “major” desecrations. Maybe they avoided some blowback by working a commentary on the ambiguous nature of history and memory into the structure of their screenplay. But they didn’t exactly make a documentary either. In the film, their version of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is motivated to create Facebook for two reasons: his desire to join one of Harvard’s elite clubs, and to stick it to Erica (Rooney Mara), a girl who dumped him. But according to David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect,” the real Zuckerberg, “was uninterested in the clubs. Instead, he had concluded that sharing and transparency would redefine the Internet and was determined to experiment with software that exemplified his ideas. He also wanted to respond to widespread student dissatisfaction that Harvard had not put online its paper “facebook,” with photos of freshmen.” “The Social Network” ends, quite powerfully, with a shot of Zuckerberg — I am about to spoil the end of “The Social Network” here, people — obsessing over Erica’s Facebook page. But by that point in time Zuckerberg was already dating his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan, who is not mentioned once in Fincher and Sorkin’s version.

I’m not bringing these things up to condemn “The Social Network” but to observe its similarities to “The King’s Speech,” which is being condemned. In both cases, the changes are primarily omissions, and specifically omissions designed to refine and “movie-ize” their lead character’s motivations. Mark Zuckerberg might have just started Facebook because he was a smart, forward-thinking nerd, but there’s no movie there if he did. Making him a loveless dork crystallizes his need to belong and his inability to connect with the people around him, which is a perfect movie-ized reason to start a website about social connections. King George VI’s journey to overcome his speech impediment is inspiring, but it’s not truly dramatic without a climactic test — hence condensing (and movie-izing) the period between his coronation (May 12, 1937) and England’s declaration of war against Germany (September 3, 1939).

I’m not necessarily saying that makes what Hooper and Seidler (or Fincher and Sorkin) did okay. But you can’t have it both ways. If Sorkin can shape the truth as he sees fit to tell a story, then so can Seidler. You can’t pick and choose which one is an outrage based on whether or not you liked the movie.

And I do suspect “The Social Network” has gotten a bit of a pass because people love the movie so much, and because people like and respect Aaron Sorkin. I think Sorkin’s also been smart in the way he’s addressed the issue in the press. Although he’s said New York Magazine Magazine, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.”

And that’s the party line I’ve seen repeated in most articles and reviews about the film: the movie isn’t trying to be a definitive historical record of Facebook and Zuckerberg, so to hold it to that standard is unfair, like judging a drama by how often it makes you laugh out loud. Seidler hasn’t given as many interviews, hasn’t made his intentions as clear, and maybe as a result, has not been given as much benefit of the doubt.

Now you might say that there’s also a moral difference between erasing a man’s girlfriend and erasing a man’s sympathy of Nazis. But it’s not as if “The King’s Speech” is pro-Nazi; it’s clearly and bluntly anti-Nazi. If Hooper and Seidler erased George VI’s dealings with Chamberlain and Hitler and made absolutely no mention of England’s political realities at the time, pretended the Nazis didn’t exist, you might have something. Though I’m not offended or outraged by either movie, I think the changes made in “The Social Network” are a lot more potentially serious because those people are still alive, and their existence can (and, I suspect, will) be inexorably changed by the versions of themselves millions of people watch onscreen.

Mostly I would hope that in 2011 we’re not so naive as viewers as to believe that what we see in a docudrama is the entire truth. We should have learned by now that the finer details of history are always sacrificed for the broad needs of drama.

Bill Murray in Ghostbusters II

Hopebusters, Too

Ghostbusters II Predicted the World Will End on Valentine’s Day 2016

Catch Ghostbusters II this month on IFC. Provided the world doesn't end, of course.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Far be it from us to contradict Mr. Bill Murray, but a prediction made in a scene from one of his films is about to be put to the test. If you remember Ghostbusters II, then you know that at the beginning of the film, retired ‘buster Peter Venkman is the host of a chat show called World of the Psychic. According to a guest on the show, the world will end on February 14th, 2016 — this Valentine’s Day.

Now, before you start looting, keep in mind the source of this information is a tad unreliable. Elaine (played by Sid and Nancy star Chloe Webb) sits with Venkman and relates how she received this intel from an alien who may or may not have disguised a UFO to look like a Holiday Inn in Paramus. Let’s just hope she misheard, otherwise there will be some awkward date nights this year.

Check out the grim prognostication in the clip below. Hopefully the world will still be here when Ghostbusters II airs Monday, Feb. 15th and throughout the month on IFC.

Harvey Weinstein Considers PG-13 Cut of “The King’s Speech”

Harvey Weinstein Considers PG-13 Cut of “The King’s Speech” (photo)

Posted by on

As King George VI might say in one of his profanity-laden stuttering rants, his movie’s about to get buggered. The Los Angeles Times reports that Harvey Weinstein is considering recutting “The King’s Speech”after the Academy Awards in order to get it a PG-13 rating:

“[He wants to re-edit] the movie to excise coarse language and secure a lower rating that will open “The King’s Speech” to a broader audience. Weinstein, whose New York-based studio The Weinstein Co. released the film, said he is talking with director Tom Hooper about trimming the profanity that earned the film an R rating in order to attain a PG-13 or even PG. He is eyeing the success of the movie in Great Britain, where a 12-and-over rating has helped it to top the box office chart for the last three weekends, beating such bigger-budget pictures as “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Green Hornet.”

“The British numbers are huge because the rating lets families see the movie together,” said Weinstein. “Tom and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie.”

Hooper could not be reached for comment.”

Let’s get this out of the way first: “The King’s Speech”‘s R rating for, as the MPAA puts it, “some language” was ludicrous to begin with. A couple of jags of naughty words aimed at no one in particular with zero sexual implication or malice don’t constitute, in my mind, grounds to preclude younger viewers. They can hear any of these words on the Internet in the amount of time it takes them to type them into Google. If you ask me, “The King’s Speech” should have been rated PG-13 all along.

A lot of movies trim their content for lower ratings and wider audiences. But most of them do it before they’ve been released. They submit a cut to the MPAA, they receive a conditional rating and then they either accept it, cut their movie, or appeal. The only recent example I can recall of a movie being recut after it’s already been released is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which made $370 million in the U.S. with an R rating but just $500,000 one year later as “The Passion Recut.” Part of the problem? Gibson’s softer “Passion,” which removed about five minutes of violence, was still too tough for a PG-13 rating, so he released it unrated, a decision that comes with its own set of financial problems.

I’ve got no beef with The Weinsteins cutting their own movie (Tom Hooper might, but I don’t). It’s their movie, they can do what they want with it. But it is funny to note that just one month ago, the Weinsteins were waging a fierce battle with the MPAA over another film in an attempt not to cut something. They successfully appealed “Blue Valentine”‘s NC-17 rating down to an R without having to make any changes to the film’s sexual content. If they’re not pleased with “The King’s Speech”‘s $60 million, they must be really pissed about “Blue Valentine”‘s $4.5 million. Can a oral sex free “Blue Valentine” be far behind?

There’s one big hole in TWC’s logic, too. Weinstein says the British grosses for the movie are so high because the film has a lower rating that “lets families see the movie together.” And I’m sure that England’s 12 rating has helped in that regard. But “The King’s Speech”‘s R-rating doesn’t prevent parents from taking their kids to see it; it certainly didn’t prevent parents from taking their kids to see “The Passion of the Christ.” He’s not considering another alternative: that British audiences are more interested in “The King’s Speech” because it’s about their king and their own history. In the same way that British audiences are probably less inclined to care about a film about a specifically American subject — a great politician, baseball, Snooki — American audiences are probably less inclined to care about a specifically British subject, namely a stuttering king.

I say this as a fan of “The King’s Speech.” I enjoyed the movie. But the biggest difference between an R and a PG-13 is that kids can go see it on their own. And I have a hard time imagining any kid that isn’t a mega-nerdlinger wanting to see “The King’s Speech.” “Dude, forget ‘The Mechanic’ this weekend! The guy from ‘Bridget Jones’ drops the F-bomb! We’ll tell my mom we’re going to see ‘The Green Hornet’ and sneak in!”

Crazy, right? That idea’s completely buggered.

The 2011 Golden Globe Winners

The 2011 Golden Globe Winners (photo)

Posted by on

In a night of very few surprises, “The Social Network” continued its dominance of the 2011 awards season, racking up four Golden Globes for Best Picture (Drama), Best Director (David Fincher), Best Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), and Best Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). Along with “Social Network,” Fincher, and Sorkin, most of the Oscar frontrunners showed no signs of slipping from their positions in their respective races. Colin Firth won best dramatic actor for “The King’s Speech,” while Natalie Portman took home best dramatic actress for “Black Swan” and my personal award for the Most Endearingly Awkward Moment of the night when she cracked herself up delivering a joke about her meeting her fiance on the set of the film.

The best supporting performances both came from David O. Russell’s boxing movie, “The Fighter” — Christian Bale won on the male side and Melissa Leo won on the female side, besting her co-star Amy Adams — while Annette Bening won best comedic actress for “The Kids Are All Right.” Really, the only true shocker of the night came in the category of best comedic actor, which went to Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version” over two Johnny Depps (“The Tourist” and “Alice in Wonderland”), Jake Gyllenhaal, and Kevin Spacey. Giamatti also netted my personal award for Most Uncomfortably Awkward Moment of the night for the sheepish pass he made at presenter Halle Berry during his acceptance speech followed by the cut to a shot of Berry expressing what I would charitably describe as disinterest.

Here’s the full lineup of film winners at the Globes:

Best Motion Picture – Drama: “The Social Network”
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy: “The Kids Are All Right”
Best Director: David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Best Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, “The Social Network”
Best Actor – Drama: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
Best Actress – Drama: Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”
Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Paul Giamatti, “Barney’s Version”
Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”
Best Foreign Language Film: “In a Better World”
Best Animated Film: “Toy Story 3″
Best Original Score:Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “The Social Network”
Best Original Song: Diane Warren (“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me”), “Burlesque”

Since the actual awards yielded so few surprises or memorable speeches, what people will be talking about around the water cooler tomorrow — or Tuesday if they’ve got tomorrow off for Martin Luther King Day — is the hosting job delivered by Ricky Gervais. When he hosted last year, Gervais was so fearless in attacking the stars and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that I was certain he’d never be invited to host any awards show again, much less the Golden Globes. To my shock, the Globes invited him back and he delivered a monologue for the ages, equally brutal and brutally funny. Here it is:

As the night went on, Gervais’ introductions didn’t grow any warmer (he welcomed Bruce Willis to the stage by rattling off a list of credits of his worst movies including “Hudson Hawk” and “Color of Night” and describing him as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad”). After slaughtering one celebrity after another, Gervais vanished completely from the show’s final hour, prompting quite a few viewers to begin wondering aloud on Twitter and Facebook whether the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had kicked him off the show in mid-broadcast. I’m reading descriptions from journalists in the room that the jokes played poorly in Beverly Hills, and that’s not surprising: Gervais’ targets are so pampered they aren’t used to even hearing the word ‘no,’ much less getting teased for the terrible movies they occasionally (or often) make.

I have no idea whether Gervais will be back for a third tour of duty on the Globes, but I admired his effort. While long bubbling claims of impropriety about the HFPA resurfaced in the days leading up to the awards, all any of the winners had to say was “Thank you to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for this incredible honor.” Someone had to address the elephant in the room, and it clearly wasn’t going to be Colin Firth.

Awards mean very little; I want to say awards mean nothing but that’s not true. They do mean something, and that something is money. That’s why people bribe lobby so hard for these awards; because they look good on ads that encourage people to go to the theater. And if they get a reluctant viewer to go see “Black Swan,” they’ve served a purpose. But we make too much out of them, and Gervais did a fine job of reminding us of that. I — and I suspect a lot of people — watch the Golden Globes for two reasons: out of obligation and to make fun of them. Gervais is the perfect Globes host because he understands both those impulses.

Powered by ZergNet