Friday, October 30, 2015

Man With A Computer

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Steve Zeitchik identified a new type of film called the "impressionistic biopic."  The article provided the recent biopic Steve Jobs as an example.  The film’s screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, has adamantly defended the film against criticism that its episodes deviate too far from the true story.  The writer contends that, in telling the story, he preferred to make creative and interesting choices rather than simply provide dramatic re-creations of actual events.  Similarly, Robert Zemeckis saw his biopic The Walk (about wire-walker Philippe Petit) as not so much a historical account as, according to Zeitchik, "a whimsical ode to the powers of dreams."

Zeitchik enthusiastically endorsed Steve Jobs and The Walk as "narratively ambitious" works that expand "creative possibilities."  He wrote, "In a postmodern storytelling universe that has long left literalism behind. . . these movies sidestep the issue of whether an event really happened.  Accuracy is defined not as literal fact but spiritual truth; if a movie conveys the essence of a person, that is enough.  New films about Steve Jobs, jazz great Miles Davis and wire-walker Philippe Petit — and slightly older ones about musician Brian Wilson and the FBI's infamous Abscam sting — implicitly offer themselves up as real without adhering to a strict version of reality." 

I cannot agree that art is more important than truth.  It is the height of vanity for a filmmaker to proclaim wisdom in replacing hard facts with fanciful illusions.  I also cannot agree with Sorkin’s double-talk that a writer’s fabrications can "[get] at some larger truths."  If you get caught telling a lie, see how well it works to say that you lie to tell a larger truth.  People generally lie to serve a personal agenda and promote their own malleable version of the truth.  It is no different with Sorkin.  Nothing good has ever come from a person trying to rewrite history.  It is the outstanding actions of men and women that express the spirit of a story and it is the duty of the filmmaker to be faithful to the story as it occurred.

Impressionistic painters used their imagination to elevate ordinary subject matter.  Paul Cezanne used this style to create beautiful images from regular people - Man With a Pipe, Man with arms folded, Man in a Straw Hat.  The biopic subject is typically a man whose accomplishments have made him an outstanding figure in human affairs.  This type of man does not require an artist’s whimsy to endow him with strength or substance.

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