From: IN%"FilmGene@eworld.com" 23-MAY-1995 13:16:43.08
David Desser writes:
<< why oh why are historians forever arguing, producing more and more books that allegedly cover ground already covered? Because historical truth is no more the province of the professional historian than it is the movie maker.>>
This is obviously a very thorny issue. On the one hand, one doesn't want to freeze history in an unchangeable unorthodoxy. However, irresponsible maunderings into historical fact, especially in the service of a commercial or heavy-handed political agenda, are, in this age of free-fall standards in historical verisimilitude, problematic and dangerous.
After all, the difference between a respected historian and a film-maker is considerable. The former, having to follow a modicum of professional practice (or risk professional condemnation and stigma) and the latter, free to cavalierly ignore all historical evidence in presenting an artistic "vision" of history.
Clearly, both kinds of practice have and will continue to be available. What is disturbing is to have scholars implicitly erase the differences between the two. The works of historians are routinely unread, except by other scholars and by a fringe of the general population. Filmmakers' views of history are in mass distribution and are generally considered immune from historical criticism -- indeed such criticism is routinely dismissed as crusty, dull cries of envy from the academy.
I think it is the business of scholars to at least explore the distortions of filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Mario Van Peebles, among others, without being attacked as anti-free speech or carping purists.
I am reminded of the critic who, in reviewing a film epic said, "Its inaccuracies must have involved an enormous amount of historical research."
Gene Stavis, School of Visual Arts -- NYC
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